Comedians from Hungary, Holland, Canada, Sweden, South Africa and Denmark came onstage to “speed date” Hollywood actress-producer-Israel advocate Noa Tishby during Comedy for a Change at the Jerusalem Cinemateque over two days of Hanukkah.
The inaugural event, billed as “an unprecedented international conference on the power of comedy to drive forward social change,” brought together top comedy writers and executives from around the world to talk about using comedy to generate positive change in the Mideast and beyond.
“In the modern media reality, comedy can be a powerful game-changer,” according to the Comedy for a Change website. “Comedy has the proven ability to spread knowledge and awareness of important problems, and to motivate the masses to contribute to the efforts to solve them.”
Tishby wasn’t really scouting out a date; dressed down in a black t-shirt, jeans and black leg warmers, the raven-haired beauty used the fast-paced interview format to interview the visiting comics about their work for social change and about their experiences in Israel, especially in comparison to their home countries.
Kristeen von Hagen, winner of four Canadian Comedy Awards, told Tishby that Israeli soldiers have little in common with Canadian soldiers. “There’s no security in Canada. It’s too cold to go out,” she quipped. “We have an army, but the last time they got called out, it was to shovel snow.”
During his 10 minutes with Tishby, Egyptian-Danish comic Omar Marzouk showed a clip from The Terror Cell, a sitcom he created about four hapless Muslim suicide bombers posing as nice Jewish boys. Danish TV won’t show the series, which walks a razor-thin line between comedy and poor taste. (The reaction of the conference audience at the Cinemateque was decidedly divided between laughing and shuddering.)
That thin line isn’t the same in all cultures. A panel discussion between Steve Bodow (executive producer of The Daily Show), Nick Martin (of BBC’s satirical Have I Got News For You), Dan Patterson (of BBC’s Mock the Week) and Avi Cohen (creative co-director of Israel’s satirical The State of the Nation) revealed that Israelis are given rein to take more risks – a case in point was The State of the Nation’s “interview” with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin five years after his assassination.
Writers and executives of the American, German and Israeli versions of The Office discussed the extent to which comedy can transcend geographic and cultural boundaries. Each version of the popular series featured culture-specific characters and references, as clips illustrated. For example, the Israeli version had a gay Muslim character who engaged in a heated disagreement with his office mates about why he does not make his own hummus.
The Office panel was moderated by Israeli comedy writer and creative director Omri Marcus, who dreamed up Comedy for a Change and got some impressive foundations to make it a reality.
Marcus, creator of the reality series Buzz Off, sold to France, Spain, Ireland and China, also is involved in Eye from Zion, the charitable project his father, Nati, founded in order to bring Israeli cataract surgeons to save eyesight in developing countries.