In October of 1993, lesbian comedian Lisa Geduldig was struck with inspiration. She had been booked to perform at what she thought was a comedy club but turned out to be a Chinese restaurant. After the show, she called a close friend to confess, “I just had the most ironic experience of telling Jewish jokes at a Chinese restaurant.”
Geduldig’s epiphany led to San Francisco’s annual Kung Pao Kosher Comedy (KosherComedy.com), now celebrating its 25th anniversary. At the time, she just wanted to offer up a new and entertaining solution to the age-old quandary: What are Jews supposed to do on Christmas?
That first year, Geduldig booked a local Chinese restaurant and enlisted some Jewish comedian friends to perform. The show “ended up being like four queer and one straight comic … so the first year was quite out of balance,” she recalls with a laugh.
Comedian Lisa Geduldig
Kung Pao Kosher Comedy made its debut on Christmas Eve in 1993 at the historic Four Seas Restaurant in San Francisco’s Chinatown to a sold-out audience (hundreds more had to be turned away). After that enormous success, Geduldig decided to make it an annual event. With new and repeat patrons every year, Geduldig says it’s like “the bar/bat mitzvah you never had — and you don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy it.”
Although Kung Pao’s original audience was almost 100 percent Jewish, the show has expanded to include a wider, more diverse San Francisco audience — including Chinese-Jewish and interfaith couples, travelers, and locals just seeking an alternative to Christmas.
Since its inception, the show has remained consistent in having four to five Jewish comics perform at a Chinese restaurant. Chinatown’s New Asia Restaurant became Kung Pao’s permanent home in 1997 — the same year a 91-year-old Henny Youngman (originator of the infamous one-liner “Take my wife … please!”) performed for the last time in his life.
Over the past quarter-century, Kung Pao has cemented itself as a must-see holiday season tradition, and to date, the show has been seen by over 40,000 people — and one emotional support rooster (true story). One year, a couple even got married at the show.
A firm believer in the Jewish tradition of tzedakah (“charity” in Hebrew), Geduldig uses the show’s success to give back, raising tens of thousands of dollars for various charities. For the cost of a ticket, diners are served a seven-course Chinese banquet at the 5 p.m. dinner show and vegetarian dim sum at the 8:30 p.m. cocktail show, making for a funny and delectable way to give back! This year, a donation was made prior to the event for the first time, because Geduldig felt resources were urgently needed for victims of the devastating hurricanes and Northern California wildfires.
Geduldig has gone on to produce shows like Funny Girlz: A Smorgasbord of Women Comedians and A Muslim, a Mormon, and a Jew Walk Into a Bar: The Comedy of Religion. For the past nine years, she has run the monthly Comedy Returns to El Rio in San Francisco’s Mission District.
Comedians Cathy Ladman, Gary Gulman, and Wendy Liebman
At this year’s shows, fellow Jewish comedians Cathy Ladman, Gary Gulman, and Wendy Liebman will take the stage in addition to Geduldig, who is this year’s “only queer.” Geduldig says she always tries to include LGBT comics whenever possible, but jokes she is starting to run out of them: “Yeah, I need more ‘straight’ comics to come out [queer] so they can be on the bill.”
Kung Pao Kosher Comedy Show Info:
The shows runs for three days, December 23, 24, and 25
at the New Asia Restaurant (772 Pacific Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133).
This year’s beneficiaries are the Jewish Family & Children’s Services Sonoma County North Bay Fire Relief and The Jewish Community Center of Puerto Rico Hurricane Maria Relief Fund.