The hair is straight now, the fabulous frizz a thing of the past. Which is good, because comedian Elayne Boosler now has more time to focus on the funny.
“Traveling America with my naturally Jewish hair throughout the ’70s and ’80s was like being a circus exhibit,” Boosler says. “People think it’s easy to care for, but you wake up tangled, and it takes so much time just to get it looking as bad as it did.”
Boosler will show off her straight locks and aim for some big yuks when she headlines the 19th annual Kung Pao Kosher Comedy shows on Dec. 23, 24 and 25. Also on the bill at the New Asia Restaurant in San Francisco’s Chinatown are comics Avi Liberman, Jeff Applebaum and host Lisa Geduldig.
It won’t be the first time Boosler has performed before Jewish audiences. She’s appeared at plenty of Jewish community functions and galas, and even done standup from the bimah.
“It seems to me that culturally, the Jewish religion comes with a sense of humor,” she says. “Sometimes fatalistic, but always funny. That informs everything I do.”
Boosler, 59, came up around the time when female comics such as Ellen DeGeneres and Roseanne Barr attained equal billing with male comedians. Sample Boosler quip from the early days: “What happens to herring when it starts to go bad? Does it start to smell good?”
The humor was edgy and contemporary, but Boosler says that there was something timeless about the Jewish comedians’ approach.
“Lenny Bruce said it best,” she notes. “Jews weren’t allowed to own land, run businesses, participate in society, so they relied on themselves, and for survival they became very personable. And then instead of shunning them, societies would say, ‘Let’s go watch the Jew be charming.’ ”
The Brooklyn-born daughter of a Russian acrobat father and Romanian ballerina mother, Boosler didn’t take the comedy plunge until she met the late comedy genius Andy Kaufman. He took her under his wing (and under his sheets for a few years), teaching her the ropes of stand-up.
She became a comedy club star on her own, then in 1986 Boosler broke through the glass ceiling on cable, becoming the first woman to land a one-hour Showtime comedy special (she went on to do six more). Before that she had been told to her face by a TV executive that no one would watch a woman do an hour of comedy.
Over the years, Boosler expanded her repertoire by hosting a game show, making TV guest appearances and starring in a few commercials (most notably, a deodorant ad with the tagline “Never let ’em see you sweat”). But she is more proud of her writing career, which includes sitcoms, monologues for stars such as Barbra Streisand and a role as a regular columnist for the Huffington Post. There she routinely weighs in with liberal commentary on the issues of the day.
“I love when people say actors should shut up,” Boosler notes. “I didn’t give up my citizenship when I went into show business. Everyone in America should be a political activist, or else the dumb guys win.”
Boosler readily admits her prime passion is the animal rescue and animal advocacy nonprofit she founded, Tails of Joy (www.tailsofjoy.net), which helps all kinds of animals, not just cats and dogs. “I’ve been a rescuer for 16 years,” she says, “and nothing gives you more insight into the human condition than that.”
Boosler also has a new book, “Big Fun,” set for publication next year. Not exactly an autobiography (“You don’t need my problems,” she says), it is more a comedic chronicle about her early days on the standup circuit in the late ’70s and early ’80s.
As an unabashed liberal, she feels intensely the slings and arrows of what she sees as an unfair, sometimes crazy society.
That doesn’t stop her from making jokes.
“If we didn’t see the humor in today’s world we’d all jump off the Tishman Building [in New York],” Boosler says. “The only thing we need to remember while fighting the insanity piece by piece, is that it’s always been like this, and we just have more instant knowledge of it all now. It’s not worse, it’s just more public.”
Kung Pao Kosher Comedy, six performances: 6 and 9:30 p.m. Dec. 23 and 24; 5 and 8:30 p.m. Dec. 25. New Asia restaurant, 772 Pacific Ave., S.F. $42-$62. (415) 522-3737 or www.koshercomedy.com.