The Israeli-Palestinian Comedy Tour, which performed here on March 4 at the West End Cultural Centre, was a riot! (and not the usual kind of riot that can ensue when the subject of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is explored). The Comedy Tour, consisting of two Jewish and one Arab performer, (a third Jewish ultra-orthodox member had a scheduling conflict) flawlessly delivered a series of hilarious “Punchlines for Peace” to an ethnically diverse crowd, of Jews, Arabs, and everyone else.
The Comedy Tour was founded in 2006 by Palestinian Arab comedian and columnist Ray Hanania and an Israeli Jewish comedian and online Podcaster Charley Warady.
The Comedy Tour are the only troupe in the world to have an Israeli and Palestinian on stage together, and their comedy is designed to foster a realization that Israelis and Palestinians are human beings, and to transcend politics through humour. They even performed at the Annapolis conference.
The Tour was brought here by the Jewish Students Association/Hillel, with the financial assistance of the Asper Endowment Fund of the Jewish Foundation, with the support of the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg.
On meeting Hanina, and Warady I immediately asked how it was they came to know each other.
With a poker straight face, Hanina answered “Charlie here, he lives in my house in Jerusalem. But he hasn’t paid off the mortgage yet. I’m waiting for him to finish paying off the mortgage, before I come back.”
Hanina already had me laughing, before he told me the two happen to have grown up in the same neighborhood of Chicago, and met each other over the internet. Their goal, is to “end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 6 shows”, according to Warady.
After telling me they had performed together in both Israel and the Palestinian territories, I asked if they noticed any differences between the crowds there as opposed to North America.
They both said that Israelis and Palestinians were “more open minded and willing to laugh” than North Americans.
I asked them, if off stage they ever had serious discussions about the conflict, and Charlie answered “Yes and we agree to disagree.” But Ray added, “ we can talk about it because we know and like each other.”
What follows are some of the memorable lines that I managed to scribble down from their show, in between laughs.
Warady began by saying;
“Fourteen years ago, I moved to Israel because my life was going too well.”
He said, being a native of Chicago, where it is cold, he moved because of the weather.
“I had to decide on moving to Israel or California. I decided to move to Israel, because there were fewer Israelis there than California.”
He asked if there “were any suicide bombers in the crowd tonight?” and referred to suicide bombers as men who were lured by the promise of going to heaven and being able to sleep with 72 virgins.
“If there are anysuicide bombers here tonight…take off your suicide belt and lower your standards,” Warady implored.
He also said the promise of 72 virgins was mistaken—“ –and is really just one 72 year old virgin.”
He added, “And anyway, who would want 72 virgins. You call that paradise. I find virgins a little bit clingy.”
Warady referred to the fact that in Jerusalem, there are sometimes smaller scale earthquakes.
“There were three earthquakes, I felt the tremors…I started thinking that if we didn’t divide up Jerusalem, someone else up there would.”
Regarding checkpoints, he joked:
“The first time I drove through a checkpoint I just threw some change at them out the window and drove through... .until they shot at me. I didn’t know they’d shoot at me for not giving exact change.”
As to why Palestinians voted for Hamas not Fatah in the 2006 elections, Warady explained:
“Arabic is very hard to read...instead of Hamas and Fatah, Palestinian’s thought they were voting for Hummus or Pita. And hey, anyone can make a good Pita, but a good Hummus is hard to make.”
He referred to El Al, as “the only airline that offers standing room only…When they make peace, they’ll change the name El-Al to El-Al Aksa.”
Aaron Freeman and Ray Hanania
after the show. Photo by Rhonda Spivak.
Hanania, who was born to Palestinian-Christian parents from Bethlehem and Jerusalem, owns land near Bethlehem and is currently married (his third time ) to a Jewish journalist. In addition to being a radio talk show host, he has written for several North American and Middle Eastern publications, including The Jerusalem Post and a newspaper in Saudi Arabia.
Hanania had the audience howling when he pointed to a man in the front row and said, “Excuse me sir, are those your four wives. Can I buy the second one on the right for two camels?”
He said once when he was on an El-al plane he had to go to the bathroom, but someone else was there already.
“ On El –Al it didn’t say the bathroom was occupied. It said disputed toiletry area.”
Hanania complained that when he was young “I had to have a lunchbox with Yasser Arafat on it, when all of my friends had Donald Duck.”
He gave Jews advice on how to win the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,
“Gefilte fish is very frightening—If you’d just throw that at us, we’d leave the country.”
He suggested that the Arabs ought never to have chosen to use the word ‘Palestine.”
“Ben Stein, Finestein, Einstein, Palestine, we gave the country the wrong name. If we had named Palestine Arab-Ville, none of the Jews would have come. They would have gone to Miami instead.”
He said he finds that Americans often don’t understand Arab names.
“I have to explain to them the difference between Libya and labia.”
He said, “My wife is a Jew. But, I didn’t know that –she just said she was Jewish (i.e.. kind of like a Jew)”
Hanania said he was once grabbed by an Israeli security guard and asked if he was an Arab.
“I said no, I am Arabish……But he beat me up anyway.”
Regarding his Jewish wife, he said—“She doesn’t know I am an Arab. She thinks I am a Puerto Rican.’
He and his wife adopted a child.
“Our son is named Aaron-- when my wife is around. When she’s not, he’s named Abdullah.”
He said in the marriage contract it referred to the “occupier” and the “occupied.”
He said that in the ketubah, it says “if we split, my wife gets half of everything, which means she gets 78% and I get 22%.”
Hanina made fun of the fact that Winnipeg’s football team is named “ The Bombers.”
Aaron Freeman, an African American who converted to Judaism, was the third comedian to join the tour and referred to himself as “a Jewish Negro.”
He noted that in the Comedy Tour all the Jews get along with “Ray”, but they all fight with each other.
He said he had to have a bris, in order to convert. Just before his bris- before one drop of blood was spilled, “The Federation called me and said I owed $200,000 in back pledges:”
He also said that when he attends Jewish functions, people are thinking, “Gee you don’t look Ethiopian to me?”
He spoke of Israel fondly because,“In Israel when someone says that they had to leave a neighborhood because it is going black, they ARE NOT TALKING ABOUT ME? (but rather about the Haredim).
Referring to his African-American Jewish daughter, he joked, “She may end up on welfare, but she’ll feel guilty about it.”
He defined Judaism as “the single most fundamentally obsessive Book Club in the world. We read five books over and over again, then we read books about the books…”
Judging by the amount of laughter generated among people of all ages and backgrounds, it was clear that The Comedy Tour was a great success.
As Warady said, “The fact that no kassams have landed in Winnipeg since we’ve been here shows that already we’ve accomplished something.”