A funny thing will happen on the way to Palo Alto

When thousands of people gather for To Life! A Jewish Cultural Street Festival, much of the laughter echoing around California Avenue will come from two feisty and seemingly unlikely sources.

Two female comedians, one a longtime volunteer in the Jewish community of the South Bay who earned a consolation prize on Comedy Central’s “Win Ben Stein’s Money,” the other a septuagenarian author and actress who has a special act that is definitely not appropriate for prime time, will emcee on the main stages and serve as the festival’s two nonmusical headliners.

“People have been laughing at me for years,” said Preeva Tramiel, wife, mother and dedicated activist in the Jewish community. “But I’ve only been doing standup for a year.” Bah-duh-bum.

Tramiel, who headlines the main stage and called herself “a female version of George Carlin, but not as dirty,” hones her act in South Bay watering holes so her “17-year-old son can’t follow me.” She hails from “a United Nations of Judaism. I’ve got 20 first cousins, from Modern Orthodox to communist to atheist.”

Trained as a writer and marketer, Tramiel has spent most of the past 20 years as a community volunteer, raising money for the S.F.-based Jewish Federation and Congregation Beth David in Saratoga, serving on the board of Congregation Etz Chayim and leading the South Peninsula Women’s Division of the Federation.

But she nursed a dream of being a comedian since high school. “I wanted to be the first Jewish Erma Bombeck,” said Tramiel, who finally took the plunge after her son was grown up. “I’m into self-deprecating fantasy humor. I observe the human condition and tweak it a little bit.”

She even found a way to incorporate her wit into an article published in the Journal of the American Jewish Congress. It was about her family’s trip to their natal home in Poland, the site of so much 20th-century tragedy.

“The article was entitled ‘Bus Ride of the Living,'” said Tramiel. “There was a lightness to this family history piece.”

Tramiel’s humor is topical and usually appropriate for a mixed audience. She won’t be telling her first standup joke, however, which her husband wrote and was an audience participation riff on what Vice President Dick Cheney said to Sen. Patrick Leahy in the Senate chambers. But she shared two others that she plans to tell at the festival.

“The American troops in Iraq,” started Tramiel, “have found some of the lost tractates of the Talmud, the Babylonian version having been written in Iraq. There is Baba Kama, Baba Metzia, and a tractate on being a grandmother, Baba Bubbe.

“And this the Jewish mother’s haiku: Dinner guests coming/No carbs, no fat, no dairy/I will serve water.”

Lynn Ruth Miller, 72, who will emcee on the seniors’ stage, is anything but the stereotypical and kindly Jewish grandmother. She recently returned from the Fringe Festival, Edinburgh’s largest cultural arts gathering, and teaches Paint With Lynn classes.

“I also do an old-fashioned strip song and dance in crazy underwear to a strip polka,” said Miller, who has written several books including two collections of essays, “Thoughts While Walking the Dog” and “More Thoughts While Walking the Dog.”

“My strip act is very popular in Europe, but I am afraid I would get arrested if I tried it in the States.”

Miller, a professional writer, actress and artist, based on the Peninsula, dove into comedy to promote her books. “I thought comedy would improve my presentations. Then I was hooked because the joy of making people laugh enchanted me.”

The hardest part of comedy for Miller is having younger audiences take her seriously. “I really do have to be careful with younger audiences,” she said, “because they do not know what I am talking about when I discuss no more hot flashes or the agony of the mammogram.”

But the response worldwide has been overwhelmingly positive. Audiences cheer and scream their approval even when Miller sheds most of her clothing. They appreciate how she is blunt, outspoken and outrageous. They understand she seeks to remodel facts in order to portray one version of the truth, Miller said.

Pursuing the truth and their hearts’ desires as well as making a living is not what motivates Tramiel or Miller. Both of them feel they were put on Earth to elicit a chuckle and a smile. They are funny and not afraid to share their humor with anyone willing to listen.

Steven Friedman

Steven Friedman is a freelance writer.