Backstory: Kosher comedy over egg rolls
As a respite from Christmas, a group in San Francisco gathers to hear Jewish comedians at a Chinese restaurant. It's become a tradition.
(Page 2 of 2)
But the show didn't always run so smoothly. Take Geduldig's first attempt to explain the concept to the Chinese restaurant owners – most of whom spoke limited English.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
"I often wished I had a film crew following me because some of these things seemed like a Woody Allen movie in the making. All 5 ft., 1 in. of me coming in and saying, 'I want to have this party for Jewish people on Christmas, but no pork.' It just went on and on," she says. "And then I finally realized the question was, 'Do you have a banquet room and is it available on Christmas Eve?' "
After she secured a location, Geduldig told the restaurant owner to expect about 200 people. More than twice that many showed up.
Other snafus have arisen over the years, too. Once, a comedian started on a bit about Latino waiters at the Last Supper, complete with a Hispanic accent. A woman in the audience stood up and shouted that the joke was racist. Geduldig, wanting to preserve the calm, says she "flew over the tables" and escorted her out. A few others followed. It was the only time such an incident has occurred.
Growing up on Long Island, the youngest and only girl in a family with three children, Geduldig says she came from a typical Jewish family. Her neighborhood was predominately Jewish – except for the Mazzolas who lived next door. "I remember they came over once with some eggnog, and I felt like the Coneheads had come over," she says.
Geduldig is dressed in tan pants and a blue T-shirt. She has long brown straight hair with a streak of gray in the front. Despite peppering her conversation with the occasional joke and the smooth timing of a professional comic, Geduldig doesn't profess to be the funny one in her family. If anything she was the most politically active. When she was 8, she protested the Vietnam War with her father. The experience had a profound impact on her – and not just because she got to yell obscenities with her dad.
Early in her career, Geduldig worked at a smattering of nonprofits and as a reporter for a public-radio station. It wasn't until 1989, when she gave a speech as best woman at a friend's wedding – to rave reviews – that Geduldig decided to try stand-up comedy. She still performs today, but now spends most of her time producing comedy shows, including the Annual George Bush Going Away Party, now in its third year.
Kung Pao itself started to flourish around 1997. That was the year Henny Youngman, the king of one-liners, agreed to headline the show. He was 91. "Getting on stage and introducing him, I literally had to fight back tears," Geduldig says. "I was 35 at the time, he had been performing for 70 years, twice my life ... and he was asleep in his wheel chair."
Youngman's manager woke him up just before show time, prompted him with a few cue cards – and he was off. Unfortunately, it ended up being Youngman's last show. He died two months later. "I've been accused of killing him for eight years now," she laughs.
Since the show's inception, Geduldig has dedicated a portion of ticket sales to various organizations. This year's beneficiaries are The Jewish Home, a residential-healthcare center for seniors in San Francisco, and the Reutlinger Community for Jewish Living, a home for the aged.
Shelley Kessler, who will attend Kung Pao for the 14th time on Christmas, admits that initially the show was a place to go "to have fun." But now she appreciates the altruism, too. "It's about connecting with people who care about good causes and having fun while we're doing it," she says.