Since its inception in 1904, the Friars Club has become a revered focal point for comedians and entertainers of all kinds to showcase their talents. The revered entertainers’ club, led in no small part by its baleboste, Executive Director Michael Gyure, welcomes men and women of all backgrounds, races and religions into its legendary halls. Jewish entertainers in particular are a staple; they have and always will hold a special place in the club and their photos adorn the hallowed walls of the Monastery, as they call it. According to Gyure, up-and-coming entertainers would do well to take a page from a Jewish comedian’s book. Michael himself is known to speak a bissel yiddish, which he picked up from talking with his friends and fellow members, yet he would be the first to tell you that he is “a goy”. The lines of his own background have become blurred by his close associations and the deep friendships he formed.
Asked about his faith, Gyure said, “Some say yes by osmosis but the answer is No. But I do feel very Jewish!”
The unique experiences of the Jewish people elevate the comedy industry in a way that is special. Jewish comedians are known for their self-deprecating humor; a painful history of persecution managed through laughter. At the Friars Club, there is a long line of Jewish entertainers, from playwright Neil Simon and comedian Joey Adams to actors such as Jerry Stiller, Fyvush Finkel and the singular voice of Barbara Streisand. Their successful and longstanding careers, among many others, serve as a reminder to aspiring entertainers and vaudevillians of all faiths that laughter has always been the best medicine. For club members who are not Jewish, but are keen on sharpening their comedic tools, they have learned so much by hanging around and kibbitzing in the dining room, the pool room or the schvitz upstairs with their Jewish counterparts, and studying this specific brand of comedy.
Michael Gyure Believes Its the Meaning that Matters
Members of the Friars Club have the unique opportunity to just be themselves together among peers, and test out their shtick with some of the nation’s funniest people, a rare opportunity for a jokester to become a better comedian. Gyure believes Verter zol men vegn un nit tseyln and listens intently to the way the people within his life speak, knowing that what they say, while many times in jest, comes from the heart. He and his team kvell over the environment they have built, and believes that the sharing of cultures within the intimate walls of the club helps instill a sense of mishpocheh and, in turn, helps each other excel at their crafts and even become better people.
From a young age, Michael Gyure had an interest in comedy, idolizing people like George Carlin, Robin Williams and Don Rickles, and he has schmoozed with funny Friars, Jerry Seinfeld and Richard Lewis and the venerable Sacha Baron Cohen. He also had a strong work ethic. This, combined with his interest in the arts and theatre, eventually led him to the Friars Club, where he manages the day to day, budgets, listens to the kvetching and the plotzing, and scheps nachas too as he produces many of the clubs events, including the iconic Friars Club Roast. Gyure credits a large part of his success, both professional and personal, to his time spent with Jewish comedians. That is, he greatly admires their sense of family and commitment to service. In recent years, he has helped create the Lincoln Awards, a concert for veterans and military families, contributes to the Injured Veteran Program and is on the Board of Chess for New York, which helps children in trouble with the law or in poverty learn all kinds of skills and integrate into the larger society.
When it comes to producing events at the Friars Club, Michael Gyure embraces Jewish culture while bringing elements of his own faith and he believes it makes for a beautiful mosaic that can inspire goodness.