Stand-up comic, writer and actress Cathy Ladman is tickled to be returning to San Francisco this month to perform at Kung Pao Kosher Comedy, where mostly Jewish audiences and Jewish comics laugh over their ambivalence and uneasiness during the Christmas season.
“They’re always fantastic shows,” said the L.A.-based Ladman. “I am so thrilled to be working with great people,” and by that she means co-headliners Gary Gulman and Wendy Liebman and Kung Pao creator and producer Lisa Geduldig.
Kung Pao offers Ladman, 62, a primo platform for her shtick, which focuses on the mishegas of her life. For more than 35 years, she has milked humor out of her lifelong battle with anorexia, her infertility, her interfaith marriage to a Midwestern guy of Scandinavian descent and her adoption of a baby from China.
“My husband had a vasectomy, and my eggs were old, so we decided to order out … Chinese,” is a joke Ladman has shared with audiences over the years.
“My comedy is very autobiographical,” Ladman said. “Whatever I am going through, it’s what my comedy is.”
Audiences at this year’s Kung Pao performances — two shows nightly Dec. 23, 24 and 25 at the two-story New Asia Restaurant in Chinatown — will be getting the Cathy Ladman they have come to expect, she said: brutally honest, highly self-critical and somewhat dark.
“I really try to tackle things that are not easy,” she said, adding “that may not please everybody. I think that’s important, because if you try to please everybody, you say nothing.”
This will be Ladman’s fourth visit to Kung Pao, which has been going strong for 25 years. So has Ladman … at least 25 years. Her stand-up career stretches back to the 1980s (check out her jokes and impressive Jewfro at tinyurl.com/ladman-89) and she was the winner of the 1992 American Comedy Award for best female stand-up comic. She has appeared on many late-night talk shows, has acted on TV shows such as “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Mad Men,” and has written for a list of shows that includes “Caroline in the City” and “Roseanne.”
She also co-starred in “J.A.P. Show: The Princesses of Comedy,” an Off-Broadway show featuring four Jewish female comics telling jokes while paying homage to an earlier generation of Jewish female humorists, including Totie Fields, Jean Carroll and Belle Barth. Currently, she is working on a new one-woman piece called “Does This Show Make Me Look Fat?”
A New York native, born and bred in Queens, Ladman said that she knew that she wanted to be a stand-up comedian at 13, around the time she was voted class clown by her fellow ninth-graders.
“I could not have been more thrilled,” said Ladman, of that designation. “It was as if Hollywood had called.”
At an early age, she began honing her skills in mimicry to great effect, delighting her peers with her impersonation of their school principal, who, Ladman said, “used to speak barely above a whisper.”
Ladman said she inherited her funny bone from her late father, Leo Ladman, a bowling alley owner, who “was a great storyteller and great at comebacks.” She said that was influenced by the comedy team of Elaine May and Mike Nichols, Jewish comedians whose albums she termed “brilliant.”
Geduldig, the brains behind Kung Pao, said that she chose Ladman, Gulman and Liebman to participate in this year’s silver anniversary shows because they have proved to be some of the “top performers” on a long list of estimable past headliners, a list that includes Elayne Boosler, Judy Gold, Marc Maron and Josh Kornbluth and late greats such as Henny Youngman, Shelley Berman and David Brenner. Like Ladman, Liebman will be returning for the fourth time; Gulman will be making his second appearance.
While grateful for Kung Pao’s growth over the years — there was one performance the first year; now there are six over three days — Geduldig sometimes waxes nostalgic for the early years, when she got to know audience members who called her for tickets. “I don’t miss all of the work,” she said, “but I miss the conversations.”
What has not changed over the years, Geduldig said, is Kung Pao’s emphasis on tzedakah. This year, partial proceeds will go to the North Bay Fire Relief fund of Jewish Family and Children’s Services and the JCC of Puerto Rico’s Hurricane Maria Relief Fund.
Each ticket includes either a seven-course meal (at the 5 p.m. dinner shows) or vegetarian dim sum snacks (at the 8:30 p.m. cocktail shows). Check out the menus at koshercomedy.com/menu. For the dinner show on Dec. 25, only balcony seats remained available as of early this week. The show is not recommended for children under 13.