Nineteen years ago, a Jewish comedian from New York found herself doing stand-up Hanukkah humor in a Chinese restaurant in western Massachusetts.
The comedian is Lisa Geduldig. Her fluke night became Kung Pao Kosher Comedy, now a San Francisco institution featuring mostly Jewish entertainment, on Christmas, in a Chinese restaurant.
This year, the 20th annual event takes up residence Saturday through Tuesday in Chinatown’s New Asia Restaurant, with headliner Judy Gold, San Francisco’s Mike Capozzola, Geduldig and Brooklyn, N.Y.-born and -bred Scott Blakeman, who did Kung Pao back in 2001.
“Kung Pao stands out from anything else I’ve done in my career,” Blakeman says. “When I got off the plane in 2001, Lisa was holding up a sign that said ‘Jerry Seinfeld,’ and that sort of set the tone from there.”
Blakeman has a reputation as a “liberal Jewish comedian.” Jokes about politics and politicians are a good part of his oeuvre, and he has appeared on FoxNews.com as a counter-opinion to the conservative establishment.
“I haven’t been on since the beginning of October this year,” Blakeman says. “But it was fun to have 3½ years of saying all these things, and, in the end, most people agreed with me and not them. So that was kind of a nice feeling.”
Like many comics, Blakeman’s cultural heritage is a seemingly infinite resource for material.
“I think if you have a lively family life, I think that inspires comedy,” Blakeman says. “In my case, the whole family expresses themselves loudly, and some of the funniest people in Jewish families don’t get onstage!”
Talking about his own family’s Hanukkah tradition, he says, “The menorah we had growing up didn’t have candles. We had an electric one with fake wax and orange bulbs we’d throw in and my mother would say, ‘Did you screw in the third day yet?’ Right now, sitting behind me, is my electric menorah. ... You can’t light a real candle, the house might burn down.”
Every year, Kung Pao — which has entertained some 40,000 revelers over two decades with seven-course Chinese dinner shows and “late” (8:30 and 9:30 p.m.) cocktail shows — donates a portion of ticket proceeds to charity.
This year’s beneficiaries are the Brown Twins/Jewish Family and Children’s Services Emergency Assistance Fund (which is helping The City’s famed octogenarian sisters and others with assisted living needs and medical management), and Bay Area Women’s & Children’s Center Drop-In Services and Food Pantry in the Tenderloin.