Why aren’t you still doing stand up?

I was talking to a colleague at work who I often joke around with in English. He’s awkward, I’m awkward — At the minimum, we make each other laugh. He mentioned trying to do stand up comedy, to which I told him that I used to do stand up as a hobby. He said, “yeah? When can I see you?”

Well, I don’t really do stand up anymore, I replied. At least not in Israel. I haven’t been terribly inspired.

A large part of it is because I’m happier. Now I have Uri, my wonderful boyfriend. Before, many of my stand up ideas came from failed relationships and bad dates that ranged from uncomfortable to humiliating.

Actually a poster for a show in Palo Alto, CA by Dragon Productions Theatre Company…  so random.

At one of my lowest moments, I was on a date through an online dating site. And yes, that was only the beginning of the embarrassment.

He was mostly interested in me because I mentioned that I did stand up as a hobby. He showed this by only asking questions about my stand up. Whenever I tried to ask him about himself, he’d somehow manage to bring it up back to my stand up. Well, when you talk about stand up, you’re almost never very funny. And I wasn’t. And he didn’t think I was either: I eeked out only a few half laughs of the pitying variety. So I spent a date talking about my stand up, which is in-and-of-itself intimate, and I wasn’t even funny. What a fail.

However, the other key inspiration for my comedy writing was from politics. For example, I used to do a pretty good Sarah Palin impersonation (this also shows how long ago I was doing stand up). My twist was that I would imitate Sarah Palin trying to court black voters. It was some seriously politically incorrect, hilarious stuff.

I’m a journalist now, which means I’m more tuned into politics than ever. But I still don’t feel comfortable doing stand up here, I explained to my colleague. Again, he asked why?

One, my Hebrew’s not nearly good enough to do stand up. That requires a level of fluency that’ll take me years to get.

But more than that, I’m an immigrant. Part of why I loved doing stand up in the U.S. was because I felt like I understood the culture well enough to create jokes that would make most people laugh. I can’t do that here yet; I’m still a foreigner.

It’s sort of like the difference between being Fez, a first generation immigrant character that’s laughed at on That 70’s Show (Courtesy of Hot Rod Homepage)…

and Margaret Cho, a second generation immigrant who’s made a career out of making fun of her immigrant mother. (Courtesy of Greginhollywood)













“So do jokes in English for other Anglo olim (new immigrants),” my colleague suggested. His assumption is accurate. I should at least feel like I have enough in common with new immigrants to make jokes that could resonate with that crowd.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for me. Many of the English-speaking immigrants that move here don’t have much in common with me. Many of them are perfectly nice, but are usually more religious and/or more right-wing. I get along with them circumstantially because we’re in the same boat. But when it comes to making jokes, I don’t feel like we have enough in common to be inspired to write stand up.

Jokes require the audience to relate to you. Here, frankly, I don’t feel all that relatable. Being a progressive, secular, Anglo-speaking, Jewish immigrant in Israel makes me stick out like a sore thumb.

In another conversation about bi-culturalism with my friend Leora, whose parents are Israeli but has lived most of her life in the U.S., I told her that I felt like I was in a no-man’s land. Culturally, I don’t really know where I fit anymore. In Israel, I am an immigrant without a community, and in the US, I’m an expat. This feeling of isolation has been one of the hardest parts about emigrating.

This is also why I haven’t had any impulse to write stand up since I moved here.

On the flip side, there have been many additions to my life since moving to Israel that would not have happened in the U.S. First, I fell in love with Uri. This fact is so powerful and amazingly, so simple, that there’s little I can say beyond how grateful I am that I found Uri.

Second, I entered journalism, my true calling. Likely, I may have never pursued journalism if I had stayed in the U.S. The complexities and richness of life in Israel inspired my career switch, and really, are much of what I love about living here.

With every change, there are benefits and sacrifices. I still joke around thankfully. I’d get bored with myself otherwise. For example, I wrote a post recently about mixing up the words for engagement and masturbation in Hebrew.

However, I see my stand up as a hobby that has been deferred. In truth, my stand up may have been lost in the move. Thankfully, online dating was also lost in the move. I think I can live with that.

Hebrew update: Some progress and a dirty joke

*Warning: There’s a little bit of strong language later in the piece. For those that don’t want to proceed, don’t. For everyone else, you’re probably now more titillated to read the piece (That was a pun).

Yes, I have been hibernating and studying and not just hibernating and wasting time, although I have been watching a good deal of Glee lately. There have been ups and downs, which have been mostly psychological: Am I actually improving? Did I start learning a foreign language too late in life to speak it without making a lot of mistakes? Will this agony ever end, or more specifically, when will those coworkers down the hall stop making fun of my Hebrew?

Thankfully, once I stop beating myself up, I can see that my studying is producing results. For example, a while back during Purim, I spent the weekend with a bunch of Israeli friends in Sde Boker. For the first time, I was able to actually speak in Hebrew for almost the entire weekend! I was both able to understand the majority of conversations and quick enough to respond most of the time. This was a huge step for me. Because I have been able to continue speaking in English, especially at work (I work for an English-language newspaper, after all), sometimes it’s been hard to gauge how far my Hebrew has come. This weekend was a much-needed ego boost.

This year, I dressed up as Ashton Kutcher for Purim. People say there is a resemblance: You be the judge.

Also, when I stay with Uri at his family’s place, he often has conversations with his parents in the living room while I’m chilling in his room, which is a door away. He’ll then translate these conversations for me, especially if he’s talking about something that relates to me. Gradually over time, I’ve been able to understand more and more of their conversations. Last time, every time he came back he would start to translate and I would say, “Yes Uri, I heard.” He then pointed this out: “Laura, you can understand everything now! We can’t hide anything from you anymore!” I certainly hope that’s true…

But, with progress, there are always funny language mistakes along the way. This one has to be the best Hebrew mess-up I’ve had in Israel lately, and perhaps, ever. I was at a bar with a friend and trying to explain that another friend had recently gotten engaged. However, instead of saying “Hee hayta me’oresset,” which means she got engaged, I said, “Hee hayta me’onnenet.” They both sound similar, and I had learned both words within a few days of each other. When my friend started bursting with laughter, and asked, “Hee hayta me’onnenet al ma?” (“al ma” means “about what?”), I understood that I said the other word… which meant that I told him, “She was masturbating.”  I can tell you this: I’ll never forget either word now.

Lesson learned? Humiliation is the best way to remember the difference between love and masturbation. Or, just acquire a new language. You choose.

A picture of a drunk guy for good measure (Courtesy of Bistrosavage).

Hibernating and studying

Hi everyone,

I’m taking a break from writing for the time being to concentrate on becoming fluent in Hebrew. Since I came to Israel 16 months ago, I’ve been busy advancing two goals professionally: writing and learning Hebrew. However, I’ve been spending more time on the former than the latter. This made some sense, especially in the beginning, because I was entering journalism and needed to develop my portfolio in order to gain credibility. But now that I’ve written a number of pieces that I’m proud of, I need to face the music and study. Otherwise I won’t advance here professionally, or frankly, personally.

What learning Hebrew has looked like thus far. (Courtesy of Moriza at Creative Commons)

What learning Hebrew will hopefully look like (Courtesy of Brewbooks at Creative Commons)

What this also means is that when I start writing again, I’ll be able to do much more because I’ll be able to interview in Hebrew, which will open a whole lot of doors. So, stay tuned. In the mean time, I’ll write sporadic personal updates, but nothing professional for a while.

Hope you’re all doing well.