The snarky, self-effacing and unabashedly politically incorrect actress and stand-up comic Jackie Hoffman, who headlines this year’s Kung Pao Kosher Comedy, has been cultivating her troublemaking persona for quite some time — since she was a youngster at an Orthodox girls’ yeshiva in Queens, New York.
“I would get thrown out of class” all the time, said Hoffman, speaking from New York, where she co-stars in the Off-Broadway hit revival of the all-Yiddish “Fiddler on the Roof.” She is playing Yente the Matchmaker, a character whose biting sarcasm is a perfect match for Hoffman.
“One time, I was thrown out for singing a Muppets song,” she said, recalling her childhood. “I was disruptive.”
Keeping up her bad-girl image has been a cinch for Hoffman, 59, whose early career included an eight-year stint with Chicago’s Second City comedy improvisation troupe. She created a stir two years ago at the Emmy Awards, when, as a nominee for Mamacita in FX’s “Feud: Bette and Joan,” she was seen shouting “Dammit! Dammit!” after losing to Laura Dern in the best supporting actress category. Video clips of her little conniption went viral, and Hoffman is still enjoying her five minutes of Emmy notoriety.
Though she has earned attention and acclaim for her roles in a number of Broadway musicals, including “Hairspray,” “Xanadu” and “The Addams Family,” Hoffman has a legion of fans who appreciate her more personal, one-woman shows, such as “The Kvetching Continues,” in which she delivers Jewish one-liners in her New York twang. She particularly relishes making fun of “[Jewish] stereotypes that are not true, but are” and playing to her base: gay men, with whom she feels an affinity.
“It’s just a shidduch” with gay men, said Hoffman, using the Jewish term for an arranged marriage.
Kung Pao Kosher Comedy founder and emcee Lisa Geduldig said that while she is “thrilled” to have nabbed Hoffman for the first time, she is also pleased to introduce audiences to another Kung Pao virgin, Jewish British comedian Mark Maier, and to welcome back a veteran, Nathan Habib.
Speaking by phone from London, where he is based, Maier, 56, said that although he does comedy shows up and down the United Kingdom, he hadn’t considered a San Francisco stand-up performance until Kung Pao alum and friend Mike Capozzola suggested he send Geduldig tryout clips. Geduldig loved his humor instantly and signed him for the show.
Maier’s comedy skews toward the “self-conscious,” he said. He riffs frequently on what it’s like to be Jewish in a country where, outside of London, you might be hard-pressed to find a landsman, or fellow Jew. Maier also often touches on the Jewish obsession with food, particularly on what passes for kosher and kosher-style in Britain.
Habib, 30, returns to Kung Pao after a nine-year hiatus. Based in New York, he said that his particular brand of Jewish comedy stems from having grown up in a “very sarcastic household [with] a lot of banter going on.” The son of a Latvian Jewish mother and a Libyan Jewish father who was born in Israel and raised in Italy, Habib said that his upbringing did not represent “the traditional Jewish American experience.” The “international style” of his childhood — he came to the U.S. from Belgium as a young child and grew up in the Bay Area speaking Hebrew at home — infuses his comedy, he said.
As has been custom since 1993, Kung Pao donates a portion of its proceeds to organizations that help people in need. This year’s beneficiaries are Groceries for Seniors and Kehilla Community Synagogue’s Immigration Committee.