A healthy dose of laughter

Some people floss. Others do sit-ups. For her own daily dose of discipline, Wendy Liebman writes 10 jokes a day, every day.

The popular Jewish comedian doesn’t worry that statistically only one in 50 gags actually makes it into her stand-up act. “I’ve got a million jokes,” she says. After 20 years in the stand-up game, she just may have the tally right.

Liebman will unload a few of her choicest zingers on Saturday, Jan. 24 at Rx: Laughter 2004, a benefit for the Auxiliary of the UCSF Medical Center at Mount Zion. Liebman headlines a bill that includes fellow comics Will Durst, Johnny Steele, Mark Pitta, Steve Mittleman, Rene Hicks and Joe Klocek.

For Liebman, the event offers an opportunity to give back in the best way she knows how. “We all know laughter makes you feel better,” she says. “But if we could prescribe it instead of painkillers, it could be a good solution.”

Now in her early 40s and a stepmother of two, Liebman sees a link between her Jewish heritage and her charitable activities. “The older I get,” she says, “the more I appreciate being Jewish.”

Along those lines, for the last two years Liebman has worked with Rx Laughter in Los Angeles (not affiliated with UCSF or the Bay Area event), serving as liaison to the stand-up community. That organization does actual research into the medical benefits of laughter.

“It looked something like my own personal mission,” she says of L.A.’s Rx Laughter. “Laughing, especially in a group, has a very cathartic effect.”

Liebman’s self-deprecating style and trademark throw-away quips have kept her at or near the top for years, with the American Comedy Awards naming her Best Female Comic in 1996.

Among the “glee-mail” lines posted on Liebman’s Web site:

“I quit smoking because this woman said, ‘Miss, your smoke is bothering me.’ I said, “Well, it’s killing me!”

“I’m old-fashioned. I like it when the man pays … for sex.”

All rim shot-worthy bits from a woman who until her early 20s never even thought about doing stand-up. Born in Roslyn, N.Y., and raised in a Reform household, Liebman studied psychology before enrolling in a stand-up extension class.

Within a few short years (well, actually they were just as long as all the other years), Liebman had been “discovered” on the “Tonight Show” and a simultaneous feature on CBS’ “48 Hours.” Those twin events catapulted her to national prominence.

Since then, she’s toured the country repeatedly, played the comedy club circuit, done every talk show and climbed every mountain.

But running counter to the “lonely-and-bitter” image of so many comics, Liebman found true happiness in marriage and motherhood. Her husband, Jeff Sherman, is the son of Robert Sherman (who with his brother wrote the score to “Mary Poppins”), and she takes her stepmom role very seriously, making sure her new family celebrates the Jewish holidays.

“I’m very careful,” notes Liebman, “because children remember everything you say, except that you told them to clean their room.”

The upcoming fund-raiser is the fourth annual event of its kind. Many tens of thousands of dollars have been raised for UCSF Medical Center at Mount Zion. Gary Freund, president of the century-old auxiliary, predicts another sell-out crowd.

“It’s a labor of love,” he says. “We want people to realize that aside from the comedy, Mount Zion still exists. It may no longer be a private Jewish hospital, but it remains vital to the medical community in the city."

Rx: Laughter 2004 takes place Saturday, Jan. 24, 8 p.m., at the Palace of Fine Arts, 3301 Lyon St., San Francisco. Tickets: $35-$75. Information: (415) 885-7354 or [email protected].

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.