A Jewish comedian, a Muslim comedian and a Christian comedian enter a Zoom room. That’s the setup for a Covid-era joke, but it’s actually happening tonight, when the JCC of Sonoma County presents a cross-cultural stand-up event called “Comedy for Peace” at 7 p.m. Tickets can be purchased here.
“Comedy for Peace” is the brainchild of Dotan Malach, an Israeli comedian now living in New York who performs under the stage name Erik Angel. (Malach is Hebrew for “angel.”) For tonight’s virtual show, Malach has assembled an eclectic group of Jewish and Arab comedians, including Reem Edan, an Iraqi-American Muslim; Maher Matta, a Lebanese-American Christian living in Virginia; and New York-based Jewish comedians Michelle Slonim and Steve Marshall.
“The goal is just to show that we can work together to have fun, and we don’t have to involve politics,” Malach told J. in an interview. “We’re more laughing about ourselves, not about the other. After an hour you can see that we’re much more alike than different.”
This is the third year that Malach has organized a “Comedy for Peace” tour, and the first time it will be entirely online. Last year’s tour was interrupted by the pandemic, and Malach said it has taken some time for him and other comedians to adjust to the virtual space.
“I had a show or two on Zoom where everyone was muted, and I promised myself never again,” he said. “Comedy without laughing is pretty sad.”
Malach encourages viewers to keep their cameras and microphones on during his sets, but that has led to some awkward moments. “I had shows in front of people without shirts, and all kinds of strange things, even things that you won’t be able to print,” he said. “We are learning how to work with it.”
In his comedy, Malach likes to explore cultural differences between Israelis and Americans. For example, he said Americans sometimes think Israelis who are talking animatedly to each other are fighting about something. “I was born and raised in a culture where you don’t speak in a regular voice if you can say the exact same words shouting,” he joked.
Matta, who was born in Lebanon and grew up in Georgia and Tennessee, riffs about his life as an Arab in America and as a father. He said performing stand-up online requires a different energy level.
“You have to be a little more animated than you normally would be, and you can’t have a very long set,” he explained. “I find the storytelling-type comedy does OK on Zoom, which is what I do.”
“Laughter is important, and it has a cunning way of breaking down barriers,” said Irene Hodes, director of cultural events at the JCC of Sonoma County. “‘Comedy for Peace’ is an exciting and meaningful way to bring together the community, as well as provide an opportunity to learn about other cultures that are both different and very similar to our own.”
Malach said the most satisfying part of “Comedy for Peace” is how much he and the other comedians enjoy collaborating on the show. “We’re bringing small lights to dark rooms,” he said.