Dublin comedy spot goes crazy for Meshugenah Jews

In 2005, in the middle of a nasty, seemingly never-ending divorce, John DeKoven considered his options.

He could be quietly miserable. He could pay a therapist $150 an hour to listen to his complaints. Or he could get up on a stage and vent about it — and make people laugh while he was at it.

“To me, comedy will always be much better than therapy,” DeKoven says. Six years later, he’s established a sizable local following as a standup comedian and as the owner of Bunjo’s Comedy Lounge in Dublin, where he curates a full schedule of standup acts on Friday and Saturday nights.

On June 18, DeKoven and five other local comedians will be getting back to their roots with the Meshugenah Comedy Tour, now a semi-regular standup night at Bunjo’s. The lineup of comedians changes, but one thread is consistent: an appreciation for the kind of dry, sardonic wit that’s made Jews a force in comedy for generations.

John DeKoven

This bill includes David Kleinberg (dubbed “The Old Jew”), Ben Feldman (“The Sarcastic Jew”), Bryce Druzin (“The Ambivalent Jew”), Bob Lieberman (“The Wise Guy Jew”) and Loren Kraut (“The Neurotic Jew”). For these nights, DeKoven has taken on the honorific “The Republican Jew.”

The idea for a night of Jewish comedians came about organically, according to DeKoven, who originally put on a nondenominational “Festivus” comedy night once a year, around Christmas, for people who were sick of the holidays.

“Then there would be other nights where I booked a show and it just so happened four out of the five comics were Jewish,” he says with a laugh. “That’s kind of a joke in and of itself, that it’s almost a prerequisite to be Jewish to do standup.”

“Sarcastic Jew” Feldman, who’s been working the San Francisco scene for the past eight years — and who calls himself a “staunch atheist” — says Judaism is just part of his culture. For Feldman, the focus is on doing as many shows as possible, while still working full time in the tech industry to make ends meet.

“I would love to focus on comedy,” the Oakland resident says. “That’s the eventual goal.”

Ben Feldman

Feldman’s first experiences on stage as a young adult were as a musician. “About eight years ago, I got kind of sick having to rely on other people to perform,” he recalls.

“There was always a lot of coordination and a lot of egos, and you can’t always get your way … I’d always been able to make people laugh, so I thought, why don’t I just try doing that?”

His role in this show is consistent with the dry kind of humor he loves as an audience member; he names Todd Barry — a cult favorite known for his deadpan commentary on life’s little annoyances — as an idol.

“As far as influences go, it’s more the witty, sarcastic, satirical stuff than the high-energy stuff, the sex and bathroom jokes,” says Feldman, who maintains a strong Internet presence and performs regularly around San Francisco, in addition to running a weekly show at the Comet Club in the Marina District.

But there’s something particularly charming about the scene at Bunjo’s, he said.

“The crowd there is more suburban and mainstream, so it’s been a nice challenge to try to appeal to those crowds, to adapt to that,” he says. “But there are quite a few regulars, and they’re really enthusiastic.”

For Lieberman, the “The Wise Guy Jew,” the Meshugenah Comedy Tour is a way to pay tribute to a generation of comics that inspired him as a kid growing up on Long Island, N.Y.

“I’m of an age where I got to see a lot of the old-school comics, both on TV and live on stage in the Catskills,” he says. “But I really got turned on to standup by the early specials on HBO in the mid-’80s, which had comics like George Carlin, Steve Martin, Robert Klein, David Steinberg and David Brenner.”

Ask a range of different comics about the current state of Jewish comedy, and you’ll get a range of answers. For his part, Lieberman says it’s on the verge of being obsolete, with older comedians like Billy Crystal being the last of the “standard-bearers.” And really, Lieberman says, “I find it annoying that he can’t seem to appear on television for 10 minutes without making a joke that includes the word ‘Jew.’ ”

But if DeKoven has anything to do with it, the Jewish comic tradition won’t exactly go quietly into the night. He left a career in real estate in order to pursue his passion for comedy, and says the gigs are worth the drawbacks.

“It’s not always easy,” he says. “But it’s a labor of love.” 

The Meshugenah Comedy Tour takes place 7:30 p.m. June 18 at Bunjo’s Comedy Lounge, 6513 Regional St., Dublin. For more information or for tickets visit www.bunjoscomedy.com.

Emma Silvers

Emma Silvers is a former J. staff writer.