Laughing through the pain — and fundraising — provides ‘Comedy Hug’ for Israeli hospital, Koby Mandell Foundation

Benefit raises $25,000; for attendees, the performances also show how to be funny and creative through hard times in Jewish history

LOS ANGELES — Jewish identity, antisemitic chants and Israeli town names were among the subjects skewered for a good cause at “A Comedy Hug for Healing,” a stand-up comedy show at Hollywood’s famous The Laugh Factory this week to benefit an Israeli hospital and the Koby Mandell Foundation.

The benefit was hosted by former “Saturday Night Live” cast member Kevin Nealon, and featured Jewish and non-Jewish comics, many of them alumni of the foundation’s Comedy for Koby tours of Israel.

Nearly 280 people attended the event in-person, and another hundred or so watched via livestream. The audience members included the 15 members of the latest cohort of the Jewish Writers’ Initiative Digital Storytellers Lab, who were not only looking to chuckle but to grapple with the question of how to be creative, and even funny, at a time of ongoing tragedy for the Jewish people.

“As a Jewish creative, it meant so much to experience the ‘Comedy Hug’ at the Laugh Factory right now,” said former Angeleno Chari Pere, a cartoonist and creative director who now lives in New Jersey and a Digital Storytellers Lab fellow in town for cohort meetings. She told eJP that the fellows had spent the afternoon prior to the show discussing the challenges of producing Jewish-themed content in a post-Oct. 7 world, with antisemitism running rampant. Pere called the event, and the involvement of both Jewish comics and non-Jewish comics, “inspiring and desperately needed.”

The benefit raised $25,000 for the foundation and the Sheba Medical Center outside Tel Aviv, Rob Kutner, the event’s co-producer and a comedy writer and author, told eJewishPhilanthropy

In addition to Nealon, comedians Jeff Ross, Rachel Bloom, Wendy Liebman, Brian Kiley, Avi Liberman, Kira Soltanovich, Ian Edwards and Dan Ahdoot performed. Although she had not been scheduled to appear, Tiffany Haddish — whose father was an Eritrean Jew — accompanied some children to the stage, saying that they had donated to charity to be able to tell some jokes. The kids then delivered a series of “dad” jokes, like “Why did the banana go to the doctor? Because he didn’t peel well.” 

Event organizers used Eventbrite with donations enabled on registration, as well as QR codes that were posted during the live stream for direct donations to the two charities, Mike Rotman, who runs digital production company Streamin Garage, told eJP.

“It’s important to speak for those who have no voice, and once Rob [Kutner] explained to me that the money raised would go to the Koby Mandell Foundation and Sheba Medical Center, I was all in,” said Rotman, who co-produced the event, ran the live stream and recruited some of the comics. 

Los Angeles-based writer and cartoonist Josh Eiserike, who was at the show Jewish Writers Initiative Digital Storytelling fellows, told eJP he was there to “laugh through the pain, which Jewish people are great at… some of the comedians went to some dark and pretty funny places.” But even the gathering itself was therapeutic, he added. “Since Oct. 7, things are pretty terrible. And even the community just coming together has been kind of awesome.”

Participating comedians asked to comment to eJP about their participation did so, predictably, with jokes followed by a sincerity chaser.

“It’s an amazing night when you can get people in Hollywood to care about something besides their careers,” Kiley, who wrote Conan O’Brien’s monologues for 27 years, told eJP. “I was there just to network and advance my career,” Soltanovich quipped, before adding, “Anything to help our people, I’m always for.”

Kiley and Soltanovich — as well as Ahdoot, Edwards and Ross — are alumni of the Koby Mandell Foundation’s Comedy for Koby tour, which organizes English-language comedy shows several times a year in Modi’in, Ra’anana, Beit Shemesh, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. 

L.A.-based comedian Avi Liberman, who also performed at The Laugh Factory on Monday night, is the founder of Comedy for Koby and produces its Israel comedy tours. He had been in Israel for fall performances when the war in Israel began, and stayed there for several months after; Kutner reached out to Liberman about putting a show together. “I don’t remember who was on board first, but I knew comics who had done the tour and who were in town would do it. Brian Kiley, Kira, Ian, etc. were all immediate yeses,” Liberman told eJP.

Kiley said he felt flattered to be part of The Laugh Factory show, in which “everyone was famous except me.” 

He added, “I’m sure people here have ties to Israel and feel a little helpless watching from across the world. I think that they wanted to come out and show their support for Israel.”

Kiley’s first Comedy for Koby tour was in 2015; his second one, last month, had a different tone, he told eJP, with the a focus on seeing the country after the Oct. 7 massacre — visiting places in the south that had been the most devastated by the Hamas attacks, or the field where Nova festivalgoers were slaughtered. This time, Kiley was so afraid of saying the wrong thing that he ran several of his jokes by Liberman before performing them, “especially as a non-Jewish person,” he said.

“There were these little memorials for each of the victims and they show their ages. Most of them were younger than my kids and it was just heartbreaking,” Kiley told eJP. After the Comedy for Koby shows, the comics talk to audience members. “Their kids were in the army or they each had a heartbreaking tale — it was different than just doing a regular comedy show or comedy tour,” Kiley said. “They’d all gone through this traumatic experience together. And hopefully it was a nice distraction, or at least a nice break where they get to laugh after having that weightiness for so long.”

Attending the Laugh Factory show provided Pere, and “all of us who have been feeling pretty alone particularly on social media and in entertainment circles,” she said, “with the strength and motivation to maintain the passion that I need to work on my Jewish creative content,” she said. “It was wonderful to be among so many friends and family, since we are one big Jewish family, and be able to do what we do best: laugh through the pain.”