Within the last decade, several English-speaking immigrants to Israel have carved out a niche for themselves in the local comedy scene. Prominent among these is the Dallas-born, onetime New York City resident Benji Lovitt, 38, who for almost eight years now has called the Holy Land home. In that time, Benji has brought his repertoire of jokes and physical shtick to appreciative audiences from the streets and TV studios of Tel Aviv to stages in Jerusalem, Arad, Latrun, Haifa, Be’ersheva, and beyond, helping to place stand-up comedy squarely on the Israeli map. I picked Benji’s brain for some insights into his humourous antics in the homeland, even as he prepares to take his routine on the road this fall.
How does Judaism figure into your routine?
Considering that most of my routine is about my experience in Israel, it’s very Jewish. There’s certainly a lot of other stuff I could talk about but I just haven’t reached the point where Israel and my aliyah experience aren’t funny to me.
There is virtually no humour in the Torah whatsoever. How did Jews get to be funny? When did we start taking humour seriously?
One of my favorite quotes is from Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, that we laugh to keep from crying. Jews have had a lot of reason to laugh over the last few thousand years. They say the same wisdom and critical eye we bring to Talmudic study and questioning has served us well in comedy.
Do you see yourself as part of a tradition of Jewish comics like Woody Allen, Jackie Mason, Jerry Seinfeld, Howie Mandel, etc.?
Well, I don’t know about that. When I appear on the Letterman show and get my own sitcom, we can have that conversation! The moment I moved to Israel (if not before then), I changed my expectations as to where my comedy was going. If I can be part of the tradition of people who are proud to love Israel, I think I can live with that (even if it doesn’t get me to Carnegie Hall).
What has been your most successful joke?
If not my most successful, I’ll say one of them (which happens to be one of my favorites) pokes fun at the reaction of many Israelis to us Olim, how they don’t understand why we would take the plunge, leave our home countries, and come here. The grass is definitely always greener…
How do you find inspiration for new material?
It’s everywhere around us. I think most of us come across funny things or experience funny thoughts on a daily basis. Comedians just have a way of crystallizing these thoughts or seeing them in a different way, maybe with a bit more cynicism or edge.
Since making aliyah in 2006, comedian Benji Lovitt has performed for audiences throughout North America and Israel including Hillels, Birthright Israel, and Jewish Federations. His perspectives on life in Israel have been featured on Israeli television and radio and in publications such as the Times of Israel and the Jerusalem Post. His annual Yom Ha’atzmaut list of things he loves about Israel has developed a wide following and he works regularly with Jewish organizations to promote Israel. www.benjilovitt.com
Benji will be touring North America October 18-November 8. To book a stand-up comedy show or educational workshop, contact him here.