Bukharian Jewish comic coming to Pittsburgh for night of laughs
ComedyNatan Badalov

Bukharian Jewish comic coming to Pittsburgh for night of laughs

'This is one way to kind of see a different light, or a different side, to Judaism'

Natan Badalov. (Photo courtesy of Natan Badalov)
Natan Badalov. (Photo courtesy of Natan Badalov)

Jewish comedian Natan Badalov doesn’t like matzah ball soup — no joke.

The Uzbek-American comic, who also detests gefilte fish, quipped that he took an Ashkenazi friend out for Bukharian cuisine. The two ate plov and dimlama. Badalov’s friend asked, “What is this?” Badalov replied, “Food.”

The joke kills on stage. Its subtext is more painful.

Among the swaths of Bukharian immigrants fleeing the former Soviet Union, Badalov’s family came to the United States in the early 1990s. Between second and eighth grade he attended Park East Day School on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

Immersion in the Jewish day school presumably should have integrated Badalov among his peers, but he remained an outsider.

“There were divisions culturally,” Badalov told the Chronicle by phone from Queens, New York. Being Bukharian among an Ashkenazi majority “added to tensions in my life.”

Badalov donned a yarmulke, tefillin and had a bar mitzvah, but he was still often dismissed by others.

“When I was a kid, we weren’t even acknowledged for our Judaism,” Badalov, 32, continued. “We were thought of as like this ethno-group. Some American Jews felt we were Muslim.”

Nearly 20 years have passed since Badalov’s childhood. In the interim, he dated an Ashkenazi rabbi and became a comedian and a writer. The relationship with the rabbi didn’t last, but the jesting did.

About eight years ago, he started working on serious material. He mined his past and discovered its comedic richness. Badalov made an animated web series, “Park West,” about his time in day school. He took to the stage to speak about being Bukharian.

Data is hard to come by, but My Jewish Learning suggests there are about 75,000 Bukharian Jews in the U.S. Conversely, 1.4 million people in the Greater New York area identify as Jewish, according to the UJA-Federation of New York.

Badalov’s bits became a set. “Connect the Dots,” which the comedian will treat Pittsburghers to on July 27, is a nearly 55-minute show about maturing in New York.

“A lot of it has to do with me navigating my cultural identity as a Bukharian Jew, and also what that led to in my life,” he said.

“There’s only about 200,000 Bukharian Jews in the world,” he continued. “I think this is one way to kind of see a different light, or a different side, to Judaism.”

Comedian Natan Badalov mines his past in debut show. (Photo courtesy of Natan Badalov)

Several clips are posted on Badalov’s Instagram account. The anecdotes are humorous but fail to tell the comedian’s story.

“You can’t get anyone’s narrative or perspective in a 30-second clip. I think humans are too nuanced and too multi-dimensional,” he said. “You have to actually see them to see where they’re coming from.”

Scanning Badalov’s social media might make someone think he’s simply spouting mordant memories, but there’s more to the tale.

The show isn’t “American Jews suck, matzah ball soup sucks, all this other stuff. Rather, this is what happened to me and this is what it led to and these are the conclusions that I came to with my life experience,” he said. “In the end of it all, the show basically has to do with me kind of overcoming my resentment.”

“Connect the Dots,” is a purposefully honest performance.

“You can’t just say, ‘Hey, I overcame this thing, and you’re still dealing with it,’” Badalov said. “Especially in standup, authenticity is such a highly sought-after, highly valued, aspect of performance. So if you’re not authentic, I think the audience can obviously tell that.”

Badalov has never been to Pittsburgh. He picked the city because it’s one of several across the U.S. that has a “decent concentration of Jewish people,” he said. “I want to take it to where people would understand it and kind of connect with it a bit more.”

Steve Hofstetter, a comedian and owner of Sunken Bus Studios, where Badalov will perform, told the Chronicle, “There aren’t a ton of Jewish comedians in Pittsburgh, and we’re thrilled to be importing a great one.”

Badalov appreciates the praise and kind reviews of his material. He hopes Pittsburghers attend the performance but cautioned against seeing “Connect the Dots” as anything too profound.

“I don’t want to oversell it,” he said. “Because it is just a comedy show, but it is a Jewish comedy show. It’s just my perspective, I guess.”

Natan Badalov: Connect The Dots is at Sunken Bus Studios, 3312 Babcock Blvd., on July 27 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available at sunkenbus.com. PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at areinherz@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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