Kung Pao headliner loves laughing at others onstage and in the audience

Wendy Liebman has headlined Kung Pao Kosher Comedy before, each time looking forward to the haimish crowds. And like a proper Jew at Christmastime, she also looks forward to the chow mein and egg drop soup.

There will be plenty to chew on when Liebman headlines this year’s Kung Pao Kosher Comedy, the 23rd installment of the San Francisco tradition that blends Jews, comedy and Chinese food.

Also on the bill: Dana Eagle, Mike Fine and Kung Pao founder-producer Lisa Geduldig. The shows, which take place at the New Asia Restaurant, run Dec. 24-26. As always, a portion of the proceeds go to charity, this year’s beneficiaries being the Institute on Aging’s Friendship Line and Legal Assistance to the Elderly.

Wendy Liebman

Liebman, queen of the sotto voce asides, will be ready with her trademark speed-of-light joke-making. This time, the humor may take on even more of a Jewish tone than before. The New York native says she’s gotten closer to her Jewish roots in recent years. Borrowing from her fellow comic and Kung Pao alum Judy Gold, she adds: “Emphasis on the ‘ish.’ ”

“I read ‘The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Jewish History and Culture,’” Liebman says, “and I’m in love with my religion. [Growing up] we celebrated both Christmas and Hanukkah. It’s only recently I started telling the truth about this. That propelled me into this moment in my career where I feel like being myself.”

That’s the sort of epiphany that can happen when one reaches age 54. Also, Liebman says she has modernized her approach to writing jokes, trying out new one-liners on Twitter. If they pass the social-media test, they may eventually end up on stage.

Recent tweets include: “I’m the type of person who gains weight just by looking at the cake that I’m finishing.” And “I finished all the Halloween candy, so I’ll be giving away books, cookware and utensils.”

Born in Roslyn, N.Y., Liebman studied psychology before enrolling in a class on standup comedy. Apparently, she went to the head of the class. By the mid-1980s, Liebman began appearing on “The Tonight Show,” and a fruitful career on the club circuit followed.

Over the years, she’s learned a few lessons, several of which she posts on her website. To wit: Live in the moment, do your best; pray no one throws anything at your head; and hope that everyone dies laughing.

She’s been based in Los Angeles for years, happily ensconced with husband Jeff Sherman (son of Robert Sherman, who co-wrote the score to “Mary Poppins”) and her stepchildren.

Earlier this year, Liebman gave birth to a new baby, though it’s more of the on-stage variety. She calls it “Locally Grown Comedy,” a once-a-month live show held at Vitello’s in Los Angeles, one of those old-fashioned Italian restaurants with murals of the Tuscan countryside painted on the walls.

She recently lured big names including George Lopez and Arsenio Hall to her show. Liebman says she likes being a producer, but more than that, she likes sitting in the audience.

“I recalled just how incredibly important it is to laugh and laugh in a community,” she says. “It’s very healing. I give it up for anybody and everybody. I’m a good audience. I sit on the side of the stage and laugh till I’m crying.”

Liebman also takes the stage and invariably slays the crowd. She does it not only with her well-written, well-timed jokes, but also with her ability to ad lib. As she wrote on her website, “Some of the best moments can’t be planned. There’s always a bit of magic and luck involved.”

“I love talking to the audience,” Liebman says. “The audience loves to see your mind at work. Otherwise I could just be an actor doing somebody else’s material.”

Wendy Liebman headlines Kung Pao Kosher Comedy, Dec. 24-26 at the New Asia Restaurant, 772 Pacific Ave., S.F. Times and prices vary. www.koshercomedy.com

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.