black and white photo of a woman on stage with a microphone
Lisa Geduldig hosting the first Kung Pao Kosher Comedy in 1993.

Kung Pao Kosher Comedy marks 30 years of Jewish Christmas in S.F.

’Twas the night before Christmas in 1993, and all through the Four Seas Chinese restaurant, hundreds of Jews were stirring — and laughing their tuchuses off. It was there, at the very first Kung Pao Kosher Comedy dinner and comedy show, that comedian Lisa Geduldig realized she had a hit on her hands.

“I’d never produced anything,” the Kung Pao founder recalled about that long ago winter’s night. “I didn’t have any staff, tech or volunteers. Then I get to the event and I had to turn away 200 people. I told the banquet manager to just keep cooking.”

Kung Pao Kosher Comedy, which brings together Jews, stand-up comedians and Chinese food, has been cooking ever since. This year marks its 30th anniversary, as well as the return to an in-person show after two years of pandemic-forced Zoom performances.

The lineup is Cathy Ladman, Mark Schiff and Berkeley-raised Orion Levine. Geduldig will serve as host, and her funny mom, Arline Geduldig, will make a video appearance from Florida. The dinner shows will take place Dec. 23, 24 and 25 in the social hall of Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco, with caterer Green Chow Down providing the Chinese food. (The New Asia Restaurant, the home of Kung Pao Kosher Comedy since 1997, closed during the pandemic.)

Left: Lisa Geduldig with Nancy Tom, co-owner of Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory. Right: A flyer for the first Kung Pao Kosher Comedy event.
Left: Lisa Geduldig with Nancy Tom, co-owner of Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory. Right: A flyer for the first Kung Pao Kosher Comedy event.

The shows will also be livestreamed on YouTube, and virtual viewers in Northern California can order dinner from the caterer. A portion of ticket sales will go to San Francisco-Marin Food Bank and Center for Constitutional Rights.

Geduldig is thrilled, and a little baffled, about reaching the Big 3-0.

“I can’t believe I’ve been doing this for 30 years,” she said. “I started at age 31 and now I’m 60. When I created it I thought it would be a one-off. I would never have imagined it taking off and lasting this many years.”

In the years since Kung Pao launched, copycat events have popped up across the country. Geduldig has steadily managed to book A-list comedians, including departed legends such as Henny Youngman (in his final performance before dying in 1998), David Brenner and Shelley Berman. The list of past performers also includes Marc Maron, Elayne Boosler, Judy Gold and former “Seinfeld” writer Carol Leifer.

Comedian Henny Youngman (left) and host Lisa Geduldig at Kung Pao Kosher Comedy in 1997. It was the comedy legend's final performance.
Comedian Henny Youngman (left) and host Lisa Geduldig at Kung Pao Kosher Comedy in 1997. It was the comedy legend’s final performance.

Ladman, who will become the first member of the Kung Pao Five-Timers Club this year, is a big fan of the show.

“I love this gig,” the L.A.-based comedian said. “They’re just great audiences. They get nuance, and they get where I come from. I certainly don’t do all Jewish humor, but they get my sensibility, and it’s a pleasure to work for this audience.”

It isn’t only the audience she appreciates. Ladman considers Geduldig “a great producer and one of us, so she knows how to treat the performers. She treats performers so well because she knows what it’s like to be on that stage.”

On the other side are the loyal audiences built up over the decades. Shelley Kessler of San Mateo has yet to miss a single year. She considers Kung Pao Kosher Comedy a “place of refuge” amid the relentless ho-ho-ho.

“It’s a nice way to celebrate with friends,” said Kessler, who usually books a table to accommodate her friends. “We laugh a lot. It’s not just the food and Yiddish proverbs in the fortune cookies. It is the entire experience.”

Sometimes the experience goes well beyond mere stand-up comedy. After the first show, Geduldig, on a whim, led the audience in what she calls the Jewish national anthem: “Sunrise, Sunset” from “Fiddler on the Roof.” One year, an attendee brought her service animal: a rooster named Vern, who clucked audibly during dinner. Another year, a couple had so much fun at the show, they grabbed a rabbi (not hard to find one at Kung Pao) and got married right then and there.

For Geduldig, it’s all part of the wild ride she’s been on for three decades.

“I never thought I’d do anything for 30 years,” she said. “I feel great about what I’ve created, and the community it has created, and all the people I’ve gotten to know.”

“Kung Pao Kosher Comedy”

Dinner 5-6 p.m., show 6-7:30 p.m. Dec. 23, 24 and 25 at Congregation Sherith Israel, 2266 California St., S.F. $90-$100 in person, purchase by 5 p.m. Dec. 14; $30-$75 virtual, purchase anytime.

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.