Lisa Geduldig and her mom, Arline, in Boynton Beach, Florida. (Photo/Wanda Altidor)
Lisa Geduldig and her mom, Arline, in Boynton Beach, Florida. (Photo/Wanda Altidor)

S.F. comedian’s side hustle: helping people get vaccines in Florida

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“Everything I’ve made fun of in my comedy career in the last 30 years, I’ve been living it,” Lisa Geduldig said at the beginning of a virtual show earlier this month. “I was going for early-bird dinner specials at Flakowitz at 4 o’clock, and getting there at 3:30 and asking if it was too early to see the dinner menu.”

She added, ”I have become my own jokes.”

This transformation occurred, Geduldig explained, because a planned two-week visit with her mother at her Florida retirement community in March 2020 kept getting extended due to the pandemic. The San Francisco comedian, who is known for her annual “Kung Pao Kosher Comedy” Christmas shows, spent a total of 17 months in Boynton Beach, bonding with her 90-year-old mother, Arline, over walks around the neighborhood, singing sessions and early-bird dinners at Flakowitz, the local Jewish deli.

Mother and daughter even shared the (virtual) stage. Last July, Geduldig launched a Zoom comedy show called “Lockdown Comedy,” which she hosted from Arline’s guest room before returning to her Mission District apartment this month. At the most recent show, Arline told a bawdy story about observing a “really sexy” male duck having his way with a female duck at a lake.

While supplying laughs during a challenging time might be considered a form of tikkun olam, Geduldig, 59, has earned the gratitude of many — and, perhaps, her place in olam haba, the “world to come” — for another pandemic project: helping strangers get inoculated against Covid-19.

In February, she started booking hard-to-get appointments at pharmacies and vaccine centers for elderly Floridians. Then in April, she began doing the same for foreigners from Latin American countries who traveled to Florida specifically to receive the vaccine. These “vaccine tourists” would post requests in a Facebook group that Geduldig monitored, and then she and a small group of volunteers would book the appointments online and serve as points of contact for the visitors during their stays. She later set up her own Facebook group to handle all of the requests from Spanish speakers.

Geduldig, who lived in Mexico for two years in her 20s and speaks fluent Spanish, estimates that she and her crew have helped over a thousand people get vaccinated to date. “It’s crazy that I know about all of this,” she told J. in an interview. “I’m supposed to be a comedian and comedy producer. But I had the information, I had the time to do it, and I like helping people.” (She emphasized that she does not offer any medical advice.)

At first, Geduldig said, she tried to “fly under the radar” because only Florida residents were eligible to receive the vaccine early in the rollout. “But then it got easy to find appointments, and there was a glut of vaccines,” she said. The current guidelines in Florida state that full-time and seasonal residents, as well as people in the state “for the purpose of providing goods or services,” may receive the vaccine.

“We’re not taking appointments away from people in Florida,” she clarified. “The problem is now convincing the anti-vaxxers to get vaccinated. I would be more than happy to help get appointments for the anti-vaxxers.”

She recalled being inundated for months with requests from Peru, Argentina, Colombia, Guatemala, Costa Rica and Mexico. One of the people she helped was Gabriela Ikonicoff of Argentina. In March, Ikonicoff flew to Florida with her mother so that the older woman could be vaccinated. She returned in July with her husband and three children for the same purpose.

I keep hoping our work is going to be over, but then there’s another wave.

A consultant who belongs to the Jewish community in Buenos Aires, Ikonicoff told J. over WhatsApp that the summer trip cost about $15,000 for flights and a rental in Miami Beach. She said it was worth the money because she does not trust the Russian-produced Sputnik V vaccine available in Argentina. In addition, two of her children, ages 15 and 18, are still ineligible to be inoculated there.

“She facilitated all the things that for us were impossible, and for free,” Ikonicoff, 48, wrote about Geduldig. “I think that in this time with so much sadness, people like her help all to find hope.”

Ikonicoff has referred other relatives and friends to Geduldig, too.

Arline Geduldig told J. she was proud of her “very caring” daughter for her vaccine outreach. “I thought it was wonderful that she was helping people who were in desperate need of these injections,” she said. As for her own foray into stand-up, she said “it makes me feel good” to hear people laugh at her stories.

On Sept. 2, Lisa — a cousin of JCCSF CEO Paul Geduldig — will be producing and hosting her first in-person show since the pandemic began. “Comedy Al Fresco” will take place on the outdoor patio of El Rio in the Mission, with a lineup that includes Karinda Dobbins, Judi Leff, Arjun Banerjee and Bob McIntyre. Tickets are available through City Box Office.

Meanwhile, she is still making some vaccine appointments, as well as helping people get Covid-19 tests so that they can fly back home. “I keep hoping our work is going to be over, but then there’s another wave,” she said.

One perk of the project was making connections with people who live across Latin America. “I’ve gotten a lot of invitations to stay with people in Peru, and I’ve always wanted to go,” she said. “Maybe when all of this is over I’ll fly down there.”

“Comedy Al Fresco,” Sept. 2 at El Rio, 3158 Mission St., S.F. Proof of vaccination and masks required. Livestream also available. $10-$25.

Andrew Esensten
Andrew Esensten

Andrew Esensten is the culture editor of J. Previously, he was a staff writer for the English-language edition of Haaretz based in Tel Aviv. Follow him on Twitter @esensten.