Hear those sleigh bells ringing? Not Lisa Geduldig. She’s holed up in her cozy San Francisco apartment organizing the Jewish community’s annual antidote to Christmas overkill: “Kung Pao Kosher Comedy,” a holiday favorite for Jews fighting off the December dilemma.
Geduldig is in heaven when putting together a big event like Kung Pao. If impresario Sol Hurok ever decided to come back to earth as a charming, dark-eyed Jewish lesbian, he’d find his twin in Lisa Geduldig.
In addition to being one of the best and most-admired stand-up comics in the Bay Area, Geduldig is a proud “Lesbo-American” and macher in the local LGBT community. She’s also a tireless advocate of progressive causes.
To top off all the multitasking, she speaks Spanish, Yiddish, French, Hebrew and even a little Thai.
But humor remains front and center with her. In fact, at any given moment, if you’re laughing out loud somewhere in San Francisco, there’s a good chance Geduldig had something to do with it.
The Bay Area’s godmother of comedy has played consigliere to countless young comedians trying to break in to the business. She’s also one of the great networkers of the modern age.
“I’m the golden Rolodex,” she says. “I love shmoozing, connecting with people and figuring out who’s who. If I have the info, I feel I have to share it.”
“Kung Pao Kosher Comedy” may just be her crowning achievement.
It’s got everything a Yuletide-challenged Jew could want. Lots of laughs (courtesy of several top Jewish stand-up comics). Jewish fellowship. Chinese food. The whole megillah.
And Geduldig deserves all the credit. She cooked up the idea 11 years ago and it’s still going strong. So is her annual “Funny Gyrlz” evening of women comedians, now in its sixth year. And her ongoing comedy showcases at the Gay and Lesbian Center.
And to think it all began with a simple wedding toast. Back in 1989, Geduldig was asked to offer words of wisdom at a friend’s wedding. But rather than go for the lump in the throat, she went for the belly laughs, cracking up the entire wedding party. That got her to thinking for the first time about making a career out of comedy.
Looking at her history, one wonders, “What took her so long?” A native of Plainview, N.Y. (that’s on Long Island), and raised in a nonreligious but culturally rich Jewish household, Geduldig recalls everyone in her neighborhood “was Jewish, except the Mazzolas with their big nativity scene.”
A “Yiddish red diaper baby,” Geduldig remembers marching against the Vietnam War when she was 8 years old. She went on to attend Cornell University, majoring in human development and psychology, and spent time in Mexico perfecting her Spanish. Coming out as a lesbian at age 21 was a major milestone, as was her coming out West shortly thereafter. A three-week vacation turned into a permanent move to the Left Coast.
Geduldig chalked up stints at the Marin Wildlife Center and internships at various nonprofit organizations before that fateful wedding speech in 1989. The laughs she earned there led to early stand-up gigs at clubs like the El Rio.
She became a regular at the Monday night open mike at the dearly departed Josie’s. At the same time, Geduldig started her remarkable run as an activist/organizer with outfits like PFLAG (Parents and Families of Lesbians and Gays), the Gay/Lesbian Film Festival and the Gay and Lesbian Center. “In New York, Jewishness permeates the fabric of the culture,” she observes, “but here, it’s gay culture.”
Thus she hit upon a golden opportunity to serve the LGBT community’s comedy needs, not only as a comic herself, but also as a producer of comedy shows, among them the “QComedy Showcase” and “Queer Comedy Quack-up.”
“Kung Pao Kosher Comedy “came about almost as an afterthought while Geduldig was doing a stand-up gig at a Massachusetts Chinese restaurant. That night, she pondered the odd symbiosis between Jews and Chinese food, coupled it with a night of Jewish stand-up and whamo, Kung Pao Kosher Comedy was born.
This year’s festivities feature headliners Judy Gold, Bruce Smirnoff and Ed Crasnick, along with Geduldig as MC. And with Chanukah overlapping this year, Geduldig plans to light the candles and say the blessings before every show.
Long time Kung Paoers always look forward to the Yiddish fortune cookies (put together by Geduldig of course). “I have Leo Rosten and others help me,” she says, “and then I give them to the Fortune Cookie Factory.”
A sampling of this year’s encookied wisdom: “With one tuchas, you can’t dance at two weddings.” Or “You can’t pee on my back and make me think it’s raining outside.” Or, for the mother of the lesbian bride, “Your son-in-law will be a turkey baster.”
Since its inception, thousands of people have attended “Kung Pao Kosher Comedy.” Headliners over the years include Cathy Ladman, Marc Maron, Carol Leifer, Jeffrey Ross and even one of the immortal Jewish comedy gods — Henny Youngman himself in his very last onstage appearance. “He was 91 and in a wheelchair,” recalls Geduldig. “His own daughter told me he looked like death, but he was great.”
It isn’t all about laughs for Geduldig. Over the years, her annual event has brought in nearly $50,000 for various charities, a source of great pride for the comedian.
Once “Kung Pao” wraps, Geduldig will head out of town on one of her annual global crossings. This year, it’s Brazil (where she will try out her new toy, the Portuguese language).
But she’ll be back soon enough, ready to plunge into the next big project. Whatever it is, it’ll probably involve some combination of laughter, lefties and lesbians.
What Geduldig says about “Kung Pao” could easily apply to all her undertakings. “I like to create community and belonging. People are thankful when they have something they can be a part of.”
The 11th annual “Kung Pao Kosher Comedy,” Dec. 24-27 at the new Asia Restaurant, 772 Pacific, S.F. Tickets: $50 for dinner/show; $35 show only. Information: (415) 522-3737, www.koshercomedy.com.