Comedy fans rejoice! TBS' Just for Laughs begins in Chicago this week. The June 11-16 festival features some big names including Russell Brand, Seth Meyers, Bob Newhart and David Cross among many others, but there are also some Jewish comedians hitting local stages for this year's festival.
Los Angeles stand-up comic Moshe Kasher will be at Stage 773 (1225 W. Belmont Ave.) June 12 and 13 at 7 p.m. Kasher has appeared on a number of late night talk shows and has his own Netflix special, Moshe Kasher: Live in Oakland as well as a memoir entitled Kasher in the Rye.
Locally, however, Chicago is teeming with funny Jews. One of them is Asher Perlman, who performs with Improv Olympic, The Second City Touring Company, and ComedySportz Chicago, and has a side comedy video project with some friends called ATV Comedy.
Perlman, who hails from Wisconsin, will appear in "Alone: Chicago's Best Solo Acts," two shows also at Stage 773 on June 14 and 15 at 7 p.m. presented by The Playground. This showcase will feature 10 short one-person comedy acts from different local talents. Perlman will perform five minutes of original characters.
In addition to belonging to three of Chicago's biggest comedy institutions, Perlman is an IT professional. Not amused? Well, he's also the winner of The Playground's Gimme 5 solo sketch competition. Anyway, if you love to laugh, Perlman's definitely A Jew You Should Know.
1. How did you discover your knack for and love of comedy?
Growing up my dad was a huge fan of old-timey comedy, like the Marx brothers and the Three Stooges. Slapstick, wordplay, that kind of thing. When I was about 7, my brother and I memorized the "who's on first?" bit and then performed that at some youth acting conferences. So that sort of got the bug early there. When I was in high school I started taking improv classes in Madison and that's where I developed my love for improv. After college, then Chicago's the mecca for in a lot of ways comedy, but certainly improv, sot that's what shot me down here.
2. How would you describe your style/sense of humor?
It's hard to describe yourself. What I enjoy watching and what I try to do is a mixture of silliness, really high-energy pieces, but still keeping a human element where people can see themselves or someone they know in that character. Trying to find that balance of something recognizable but just blowing it out into something ridiculous.
3. What does it take to make it in this crowded Chicago improv/comedy scene?
The Chicago comedy scene is the most oversaturated market. It's incredible. The thing I feel like makes performers stand out is, at this point, you have to be easy to work with. I think at one point when there weren't as many people, if you were really funny, you could get away with being kinda rude, possibly. But at this point, if you're even a little bit difficult to work with then there's no chance you're going to survive, because there are people who are really funny and fun to work with. Being easy to work with and super hard-working and dedicated, those are the two controllable factors. The less controllable one is obviously being funny.
4. Got a good Jewish joke for us or maybe a character we might identify with?
I don't have any blatantly Jewish characters. That's an interesting thing. I haven't borrowed much from my cultural upbringing in scenes. There's so much to pull from. I have done a character, I haven't done it recently, of my Hebrew tutor when I was studying for my bar mitzvah, she was a great character. She was just one of a kind. She was so enthusiastic about Hebrew studies, it was amazing. Just the way she spoke was unique. I'm not sure I could do her justice now.
Growing up there were so many funny Jewish people in my life. Our rabbi, when we were backing out of the synagogue parking lot, our rabbi was walking behind the car, and right as we were backing up we heard a thump, we looked back and we saw our rabbi holding his foot as if we'd run over his foot. We stopped the car and it turned out he hit the truck with his hand and pretended we hit his foot. Also, I was born in Seattle, I was there for the first 12 years of my life, and our rabbi there was a huge Mariners fan. I was friends with his son so we would go over there on Saturdays sometimes and they were observant so they didn't turn on the lights or anything like that, but he had his TV on a timer just to play the Mariners games so he could watch them on Shabbat. It was really funny.
5. If you could tour with anyone famous, who would it be?
Bill Murray. To do a comedy show with Bill Murray would be a dream come true.
6. What do you love most about what you do?
The thing I love the most in Chicago is the community of people. It's such an amazing culture of supportive, engaging, interested people who love what they're doing and love supporting each other, which is so difficult to find after college, to find a group of people who are really enthusiastic, supportive, intelligent and entertaining. Comedy in general, it sounds silly to say it, but just that buzz you get from making people happy, when you get that immediate feedback from the audience, that's just unbeatable. That's just such an amazing feeling.
7. In an alternate universe where you couldn't be doing comedy, what would you do?
My honest answer is I would probably go back to school, get a PhD, and try to become a college professor. I studied political science in college and had one professor in particular who was really inspiring for me and I could see myself following in those footsteps and having a really good time.
8. What's your favorite Jewish thing to do (or how do you Jew?) in Chicago?
My favorite thing, and this has been my favorite Jewish activity since I can remember, is Shabbat dinner on Friday. It's just such a fun way to unwind after a week and you can pull in your secular friends, your family, anyone. I just feel like an excuse to have a nice big dinner together and just settle after a week is just amazing. I still have Shabbat dinners sometimes and I always treasure them.