Catch a rising Jewish star: Last Comic Standing finalist brings his shtick to Palo Alto

Comedian Gary Gulman feels very bad about Darfur. And the rain forest. He is so sensitive, in fact, that growing up he even felt bad for vanilla ice cream, which seemed to get a bad rap. He always ordered vanilla just to show his sympathy.

Then he found out vanilla ice cream was actually America’s best-selling flavor. “I felt freed,” Gulman recalls. “I started eating the rest — chocolate, strawberry — and I haven’t had straight vanilla since.”

There is certainly nothing vanilla about Gulman’s brand of comedy. The Peabody, Mass., native is a rising star of stand-up, propelled by his finalist status on NBC’s “Last Comic Standing” a few years ago.

Gulman, 38, headlines this year’s Chopshticks, the South Bay’s annual comedy-and-Chinese-food holiday event. It takes place Dec. 24 and 25 at Ming’s Restaurant in Palo Alto. Now in its seventh year, the event is sponsored by the Albert L. Schultz Jewish Community Center.

Often Gulman’s routines center on inanimate objects, like fruit or milk or soda. The guy actually has secret dialogues with these things, but rather than discussing them on a psychiatrist’s couch, he turns them into comedy gold.

Gulman has a routine about grapes vs. grapefruit (he loves the former, totally disses the latter). He’s smart, too, offering one bit about how the Greeks came up with their best ideas — democracy, philosophy, ethics — around 300 B.C.E. Since then, he says, pretty much all they’ve contributed to world civilization is a salad.

And he talks frequently about being Jewish. At 6-foot-6, lanky and handsome, Gulman might look like an all-conference wide receiver, but he’s a nice Jewish boy at heart.

He’s hot now, but Gulman clawed his way up the hard way, and not just in comedy. Situated just north of Boston proper, Peabody is a working- class town near the Atlantic shore. The comedian says early life there was tough for him — the Gulmans were “one of the few Jewish families that bought matzah with food stamps.”

The youngest of three boys, Gulman says joking and comedy were “currency” in his family and a way to get attention. He would study Johnny Carson and “Saturday Night Live,” trying to find a comedy style of his own.

He also attended Hebrew school several times a week, something he remembers best for its adverse affect on his Little League progress. But he still celebrates the Jewish holidays and attends High Holy Day services.

After graduating from Boston College, Gulman began developing his comedy chops at small clubs and open mic sessions. To pay the bills, he served as a substitute teacher at the same high school he attended as a youth. “By all accounts I was a loser,” he says, “but I was having the best time.”

His times were about to get better. Becoming one of three finalists on “Last Comic Standing” in 2004 jump-started his career. He has since been on the national comedy circuit, appearing on “The Tonight Show,” “The Late Show with David Letterman,” the HBO comedy-documentary “Tourgasm” with Dane Cook and his own comedy specials on Showtime and Comedy Central. He also released a CD, “Conversations With Inanimate Objects,” in 2005.

With all that success and notoriety, Gulman is no longer the starving artist he once was. So he can’t play dumb or broke anymore, which he says is often the default position for stand-up comics.

“No comedian says, ‘I drive an Escalade,’ ” Gulman notes. “I’ve occasionally, on stage, admitted to having health insurance and a 401(k). It’s the cliché about comedians: They’re broke, out of shape and unlucky in love.”

Gulman is none of the above, but that doesn’t stop him from having those kooky conversations with himself about things. And for the audiences at this year’s Chopshticks, he can also kvetch poetic about all things Jewish.

“I love it when I have Jews in the audience,” Gulman says, “so I can talk about how commercial Purim has gotten.”

Chopshticks is at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 24, and 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 25, at Ming’s Restaurant, 1700 Embarcadero Road, Palo Alto. $70; student discount available. Information:

(650) 852-3509 or

Want more chow fun? Lots of laughs on holiday menu

The Chopshticks comedy show in Palo Alto and Kung Pao Kosher Comedy in San Francisco aren’t the only comedy-and-Chinese-food offerings this holiday season.

Congregation Beth Jacob in Redwood City will hold a lunchtime affair, with a vegetarian luncheon followed by an hour of family-friendly stand-up from Eric “Smooth-E” Schwartz. The event takes place 1 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 25 at Congregation Beth Jacob, 1550 Alameda de las Pulgas, Redwood City. A $30 ticket includes lunch and show. For more information, call (650) 366-8481.

The North Bay Jewish community is getting in on the action with “Chopshtick,” a night of Kosher comedy, music and Chinese cuisine. The event takes place Wednesday, Dec. 24 at the B’nai Israel Jewish Center in Petaluma, which also sponsors “Chopshtick.”

Rather than go the stand-up comedy route, organizers this year went in a more musical direction. Headlining “Chopshtick” will be singer-songwriter and Memphis native Shelley Fisher, also known as the “Hebrew Hillbilly.” She plays a mix of blues, pop, jazz, R&B, standards, rock and country. Also on the bill is Solid Air, a local band from Sonoma. An optional kosher Chinese buffet will be offered by Chinatown Restaurant.

Doors for “Chopshtick” open at 6:15 p.m., with entertainment beginning at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 24 at the B’nai Israel Jewish Center, 740 Western Ave., Petaluma. Tickets for the show are $20-$25, with children 12 and under admitted free. An optional kosher Chinese dinner is $12 per person; wine, beer and soft drinks are available at additional cost.

The deadline to RSVP for dinner is Saturday, Dec. 20. For tickets or information, contact Phyllis Feibusch at (707) 762-0340 or [email protected].

In Dublin, the Festivus Jubilee is scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 23 and Wednesday, Dec. 24 at a Chinese food restaurant. Promotional material for the second annual comedy showcase notes that “96 percent of Americans celebrate Christmas. This show is for the other 4 percent” — or, as the famous “Seinfield” episode pointed out, “a Festivus for the rest of us.”

Comedians Larry “Bubbles” Brown and Candy Churilla are headlining both shows, along with Jeff Applebaum on the “official” day of Festivus (Dec. 23) and Andrew Norelli on Dec. 24, plus an assortment of eight other comics. There will also be a Festivus pole, a re-gifting table and a session for “the airing of the grievances.”

Both shows run from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Willow Tree Restaurant, 6513 Regional St., Dublin. Tickets are $37, with a $10 increase after Saturday, Dec. 20; admission includes a Chinese food dinner, tax, tip and show. Ages 16 and over recommended. For more information, call host and promoter John DeKoven at (925) 264-4413 or visit

As a reminder, the 16th annual Kung Pao Kosher Comedy shows (detailed in the Dec. 12 issue of j.) are Thursday, Dec. 24 through Dec. 27 at the New Asia Restaurant, 772 Pacific St., San Francisco. David Brenner headlines, and tickets are $42 for cocktail shows and $62 for dinner shows. For more information, call (925) 275-9005 or visit

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.