Movies, Chinese food, and volunteering are the three most common go-tos for Jews on Christmas.
Twenty-seven years ago, San Francisco comic Lisa Geduldig added a fourth option, Kung Pao Kosher Comedy, for anyone feeling left out on the Christian/Hallmark holiday.
The “Jewish-comedy-on-Christmas-in-a-Chinese-restaurant” extravaganza has over the past three decades hosted headliners like Henny Youngman, Shelley Berman, David Brenner, and Elayne Boosler and over 40 thousand attendees.
This year’s installment, which kicks off on Christmas Eve at Chinatown’s New Asia Restaurant, promises an exciting lineup of Emmy-nominated actress Jackie Hoffman (“Mamacita” on Feud: Betty and Joan), award-winning London-based writer and stand-up comedian Mark Maier, Palo Alto native Nathan Habib, and Geduldig, herself.
Come at 5pm for a six-course Chinese banquet or at 8:30pm for cocktails and vegetarian dim sum. The fortune cookies filled with Yiddish proverbs like “With one tuchus, you can’t dance at 2 weddings” are worth the trip alone!
I spoke to Hoffman, who can currently be seen as “Yente the Matchmaker” in the critically acclaimed Yiddish production of Fiddler on the Roof — Off-Broadway and in Ryan Murphy’s Netflix series The Politician, about coming to Kung Pao Kosher Comedy, playing Mamacita and Yente, and the “death of humor.”
48 HILLS Why are you excited to spend Christmas with Kung Pao Kosher Comedy?
JACKIE HOFFMAN Who said I was excited? Actually, I am very excited and anxious, but I’m anxious before everything. It’s always exciting for me to do my own stuff whether it’s at home in New York or elsewhere, especially to see what’s going to work. Lisa [Geduldig] has been trying to get me to do Kung Pao Kosher Comedy for years and I think the whole setup is such a great idea.
48 HILLS Kung Pao Kosher Comedy’s Jewish take on Christmas makes me think of your previous shows, A Chanukah Carol and Jackie’s Kosher Kristmas. Why were these projects interesting to you and what’s the connection between these shows and an event like Kung Pao Kosher Comedy?
JACKIE HOFFMAN It’s a frequently done theme — the Jew at Christmas. A Chanukah Charol is more like a one-woman play modeled after Patrick Stewart’s A Christmas Carol. Jackie’s Kosher Kristmas were holiday-themed variety shows. The time of year and the vast difference in our holidays provide a lot of fodder. Kung Pao Kosher Comedy is all about the ambience of a Jewish tradition on Christmas, so it has an excitement all its own.
48 HILLS Why was playing the Mamacita character on Feud an interesting proposition for you? Were you surprised to get the Emmy nomination and were you robbed of a win?
JACKIE HOFFMAN It was my first regular role in a series and it was based on a real person who was fascinating and likable to me. I campaigned hard for that nomination and was shocked and thrilled beyond belief to be nominated, but I can’t think of myself as being robbed because of the brilliant actresses I was nominated with.
48 HILLS Talk to me about your experience playing Yente in Fiddler on the Roof. And why, in your opinion, has this Jewish musical appealed to so many different cultures over so many years? What keeps it relevant?
JACKIE HOFFMAN It’s been intense and eye-opening playing Yiddish Fiddler every night. Speaking this language has made this the most meaningful thing I’ve ever done. I think the piece endures because of the universal themes — love, family, religious tradition versus modernity, persecution, and immigration.
48 HILLS What was your experience working with Bill Cosby on the show, Cosby? Did you know him before that?
JACKIE HOFFMAN I did not know Mr. Cosby before we taped Cosby. Funny you should mention him because in my last show I sang a song I wrote about him. He was very kind and cool. I really liked him. The whole thing is very sad.
48 HILLS In recent years, comedians like Louis C.K. and Dave Chappelle have been getting grief for their comedy. Do comedians have a right to say whatever they want?
JACKIE HOFFMAN I think that what’s happening is infuriating. It’s the death of humor. Humor can and should be inappropriate, wrong, and shocking. The people who object most of all are people who are not only without a sense of humor but are also ignorant. They are often misinterpreting things. We have lost our sense of irony, sarcasm, and satire — and that is really tragic.
I was warned about the audiences in San Francisco, that they are super politically correct, so we’ll see if they get me or are completely appalled.
48 HILLS Are Jews still misunderstood? If so, what are some of the biggest misconceptions?
JACKIE HOFFMAN I think a lot of younger Jews don’t have a Jewish education anymore, so they don’t really know what it means to be Jewish. They know about the Holocaust and the Israeli/Palestinian mess. The larger world thinks we’re all Chasidim or all rich and that the women are selfish in bed, which really pisses me off!
48 HILLS What are some of the ways that Jews can get into the holiday spirit in addition to Kung Pao Kosher Comedy?
JACKIE HOFFMAN Go volunteer putting slop on people’s trays at a homeless shelter. Watch the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol with Alistair Sim as Scrooge.
THE 27TH ANNUAL KUNG PAO KOSHER COMEDY
Tue/24 — Thu/26 5pm Dinner Show, $74; 8:30pm Cocktail Show, $54
New Asia Restaurant, SF.
More info here.