A good time for comedy: Eli Lebowicz to perform at shuls’ fundraiser for Israel
Comedy for a causeEvent to be held Dec. 24

A good time for comedy: Eli Lebowicz to perform at shuls’ fundraiser for Israel

“There's so much material, especially in the Orthodox life,” Lebowicz said. “There's just so many things to laugh about.”

Eli Lebowicz (Photo by Daniel Landesman)
Eli Lebowicz (Photo by Daniel Landesman)

Eli Lebowicz first took the mic as a standup comedian when he was a student at Yeshiva University in 2009.

He got enough laughs to win the school’s annual comedy contest (yes, YU had an annual comedy contest) — and enough encouragement to hone his act and keep performing.

Lebowicz will bring his decidedly Jewish act to Pittsburgh on Dec. 24, at “United in Laughter,” a fundraising event for United Hatzalah, hosted by congregations Shaare Torah and Poale Zedeck. The event begins at 5:30 p.m. at Shaare Torah and includes dinner.

Lebowicz performs throughout the U.S. and Canada. While he has not yet been offered a Netflix special, he’s made peace with his place in the world of comedy.

“I don’t have TV credits, but I’m like the Young Israel comedian, or the Chabad comedian,” he said, speaking from his home in Teaneck, New Jersey. “I’m the guy that you see at synagogues and shuls all over the country, but I don’t really give off the vibe of ‘Have I seen that guy on TV?’ It’s more like, ‘Have I davened next to that guy?’”

Lebowicz, 34, has been doing standup since college, but has been making people laugh since high school, when he worked at Chicago’s Wrigley Field selling drinks and hot dogs while doing Harry Caray impressions at Cubs games.

He polished his craft during “bringer” nights at New York comedy clubs, where budding comics were invited to do a five-minute set if they brought eight or 10 friends along for the ride.

From there, he moved on to entertaining at sheva brachot and holiday parties, having developed a solid 30-minute set “for a Jewish crowd, with a Jewish spin on it,” he said.

“There’s so much material, especially in the Orthodox life,” Lebowicz said. “There’s just so many things to laugh about.”

He began entertaining on college campuses, at Hillel centers and for other Jewish groups, to the tune of about 50 shows a year.

Until last year, he had a series of day jobs while doing comedy on the side. Some of those jobs provided fodder for his act — including his stint in the marketing department at the Orthodox Union.

“I would just get random phone calls, from people who would be like, ‘Hi. I’m in Costco and I want to know if these hotdogs are kosher l’Pesach.’” Or, “‘Hi, I’m born in February 1928. When’s my Hebrew birthday?’”

Now, the father of two (and one on the way) is a full-time comic and he hasn’t looked back.

Committing to comedy full time, Lebowicz said, has allowed him time to do podcasts and sketch videos in addition to standup, helping to shape his “comedy brand.”

Lately, he’s been on the road doing shows around the country to help fundraise for Israel.

It’s a good time for comedy, Lebowicz said.

“It’s a little bit like COVID, where people need a pick-me-up, because the last two months have been so heavy and so filled with a multitude of emotions of fear, sadness, pain, anger,” he said. “And now it’s also fear of antisemitism. There’s so much going on that I very much encourage communities to try to have these kinds of events. It’s a night to get off your phones for a sec. Just because there’s the elephant in the room of what’s going on in Israel — especially because we don’t know how long this is going to go on — we just need a refresh, a catharsis.”

At one of the first shows Lebowicz did after the war began, he was part of a comedy lineup and the price of the ticket was $36.

“I said to the audience, ‘You know, $36 is pretty good for group therapy.’ We all just need this.”

Registration for “United in Laughter” is at shaaretorah.net/event/comedy2023. PJC

Toby Tabachnick can be reached at ttabachnick@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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