As a nation that emphasizes creativity and ingenuity, Israel sits in the Middle East as a beacon of culture. From the arts to TV and movies, even to fashion, Israelis excel and receive world renown for their work.
Until recently, comedy wasn’t on that list — not because Israelis aren’t funny, but because most Israeli standup was done in Hebrew.
For those of us who cannot understand jokes told in Hebrew, a new class of comedians has begun to emerge from Israel: English-speaking standup comics.
Some of them are immigrants to the Jewish state while others are Israeli, testing the limits of language manipulation to make their jokes funny and understandable to both natives and non-natives of Israel.
If you’re like me and cannot understand Hebrew, here are five of Israel’s funniest English-speaking comedians for you to check out.
- Yisrael Campbell
Campbell’s unique background makes him a fan favorite amongst worldwide “Anglos.” Raised Catholic in the suburbs of Philadelphia, he underwent three separate conversions to Judaism (Reform, Conservative and Orthodox) before moving to the Holy Land.
Drawing on his background, conversions, and day-to-day experiences in Israel as a black-hatted, peyot-rocking American Israeli, Yisrael’s comedy is unique. He performs in English for groups in Israel and abroad.
2. Shahar Hason
A fan favorite of Israelis, Hason is a pioneer of Israel’s thriving English standup scene. His family is originally Yemenite, a fact that is sometimes used in his comedy; however, most of his comedy revolves around life in Tel Aviv, life as an Israeli, and seemingly innocuous experiences that he turns into laughs.
A unique fact about Hason is that he started doing comedy in Hebrew and only later improved his English so that he could do standup for English-speaking immigrants to Israel.
Since becoming a well-respected comedian throughout Israel, he and some of his co-comedians on Funny Monday, their hosted show, have given world tours and received international acclaim. Click below to see one of my favorite routines of his, along with other Funny Monday comedians.
3. Modi Rosenfeld
Rosenfeld has a unique background when it comes to comedy. Moving to New York from Israel at an early age, he decided to major in psychology at Boston University. After serving as a cantor at a synagogue and a banker on Wall Street, he decided to enter comedy in the USA.
Since then, he has put down roots in New York City but continues to do standup about being both Jewish and Israeli. Rosenfeld’s comedy also pokes fun at different people and different groups — all in good faith.
4. Benji Lovitt
A well-respected name in the comedy world, Lovitt’s comedy revolves around cultural differences between Israel and the rest of the world, and Israelis and everyone else.
Lovitt moved to Israel from Dallas in 2006, and has since performed comedy for organized trips in Israel and even for families confined to bomb shelters during Operation Protective Edge.
He is also a journalist, frequently writing for the Times of Israel and the Jerusalem Post. Lovitt is absolutely hilarious.
5. Yohai Sponder
Last, but not least, is Yohai Sponder. He was born and raised in Israel, where he has practiced comedy for years.
A co-creator of Funny Monday with Shahar Hason, Sponder also started performing in Hebrew, but learned how to do comedy in English. A fan-favorite in Tel Aviv and in many of the worldwide cities he’s performed in, Sponder discusses Israelis, Israeli life, and family life in his work.
Sponder’s humor tends to be blunt to-the-point, as you’ll see in this clip below (minutes 3:41-6:13).
Groundbreaking Israel content is developed by ISRAEL21c’s Digital Ambassadors.
Jesse Fox is a student at the University of Pennsylvania studying Politics, Philosophy, and Economics. Find him on Linkedin here.