We got to talk to Joel Chasnoff – a Jewish comedian living in Israel, but originally from Chicago.
He is hosting a comedy event at City Winery on Christmas Day. Let’s take a look behind the scenes!
So Joel, where did you grow up?
What did you do Jewish growing up?
What didn’t I? Schechter already makes it a pretty Jewish upbringing. And, I love Schechter, any Jewish identity I have came from there and Camp Ramah. In my family, it was kosher and Friday night dinner every Shabbat and sometimes synagogue on Saturday. I was never forced to go, I genuinely enjoyed being part of a Jewish community and living a Jewish life.
What do you do for work?
I’m a stand-up comedian, full-time, believe it or not. Standup Comedy is the only job I have ever had. I am also the author of the comic memoir The 188th Crybaby Brigade. I went to college, I did the army in Israel and then straight to stand-up comedy, for almost 20 years.
When did you start doing comedy?
It all began at Evanston High School, writing and directing comedy and sketch comedy. I continued at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia (NJB Alert) and didn’t really do it in the army. When I came back, I moved back to Chicago and was a student at iO before moving to NYC.
Tell us about your IDF service
I served for one year in the Israeli Army. I volunteered as a 24 year old and it was a transformative experience.
You can read about Joel’s army service in his book, The 188th Crybaby Brigade
Do you consider yourself a Jewish Comedian or a Comedian who is Jewish?
My act is very Jewish, but it wasn’t always! I used to tour colleges and do mainstream comedy. As my career grew, more and more of my shows were for Day Schools or summer camps, or at Jewish fundraisers. Now, more than 90+ percent of my shows are in the Jewish world and I have tailored my act. The content is Jewish. I am a Jewish comedian now.
What do you think about performing for Jews?
For me, I love Jewish audiences because I have been performing for them for so long. I know them, I get them. When you are performing, you need to find a way to relate to them through humor. With my background, I don’t find it hard to relate to Jewish audiences. It is all about relating to your audience no matter who they are.
When I perform for a Jewish crowd I feel like I am telling my story to people who care and who resonate with it.
What show are you doing in Chicago?
When I tour, it is usually my own hour stand-up show and I am the only comic performing. This time in Chicago, I am MC-ing with Barry Schechter, voted funniest rabbi in Chicago.
Moody McCarthy is going to headline. He has been on Conan and Letterman and he does a more general act. He is a friend from NYC.
What do you have to do to be the funniest Rabbi in Chicago?
It may have been a stand-up night that invited Rabbis to come, that might be it. Or, it might just be that he has a reputation for being funny on the bima or at services. Come find out for yourselves!
Tell us about your life in Israel
I live in Tel Aviv, Israel and I just started performing comedy there. The audience is much different. Israelis are much more interested in being part of the show whereas American audiences often avoid the front row so they won’t be picked on by the comedians. I usually perform in English, but have performed in Hebrew. With how many Israelis speak English, I don’t think that it is a requirement to do comedy in Hebrew.
What do you do for fun?
I play tennis and guitar, but I also have kids and just want to spend time with them. We just got a ping-pong table, we play a lot of ping-pong.
What do you do Jewish now?
Living in Israel is big. The holidays are Jewish holidays and the language is Hebrew. When I am in the US traveling, comedy is a big Jewish outlet for me.
Why might Jews enjoy your show at City Winery?
I think my act is about real Jewish things. It is not that self-hating Jewish thing, it’s not the comedian who wished he wasn’t Jewish but is stuck with it. I am talking about experiences from my life growing up Jewish and the Jewish experiences I am having now. I think it has a pretty positive angle.
I talk about raising Jewish kids, serving in the Israeli army to my experiences in Jewish day school – just experiences from my life.
This is the third annual Christmas comedy show at City Winery, tell us more about it.
After doing this event in New York for many years, we brought this show to Chicago. Jews are used to feeling left our on Christmas and now there is something specifically for them besides going out to a movie or for Chinese food. I think it is enjoyed and appreciated.
Think back to your Chicago days, what was your favorite place to eat?
Well I try and eat healthier now, but Eduardo’s pizza was my favorite.
When the tribe gathers…an argument will break out, but – it will eventually be resolved. Perhaps, many years later.
Check out Joel Chasnoff at Christmas for the Jews feat. Joel Chasnoff, Moody McCarthy and Rabbi Barry Schechter – 12/25/18