Lisa Geduldig, standup comedian and founder of Kung Pao Kosher Comedy, took a few minutes during a recent Hanukkah celebration at her home to answer questions about the San Francisco institution of “Jewish comedy on Christmas in a Chinese restaurant” on its 25th anniversary.
So what’s the origin of Kung Pao?
In October 1993, I was booked to play Peking Garden Club in South Hadley, Mass; I just assumed it was a comedy club, and was surprised it was a Chinese restaurant. I liked the irony of doing Jewish jokes in a Chinese restaurant. Then I thought about Jews and Chinese restaurants on Christmas, and got the idea of booking Jewish comedians to play on Christmas — and couldn’t get it out of my head. I came back to San Francisco and starting calling restaurants.
Where and when was the first show?
On Christmas Eve 1993 at the Four Seas. It’s closed now — it’s Mr. Jiu’s.
Was it a success?
Four hundred people came and I had to turn 200 away. Then it kept getting bigger, I kept adding shows, before and after Christmas, too. It moved to Hunan Restaurant, and in 1997, to New Asia, where it is today.
What have been turning points?
In 1997, Henny Youngman appeared; he was 91 and had been performing for 70 years. I found his number in the book and called him on the phone; he was firing one-liners at me. And when I introduced him at the show, I got choked up, the only time that’s happened. He died of pneumonia two months later. Even though people accused me of killing Henny Youngman, the show was the last time his grandchildren saw him alive — performing onstage, the way he would have wanted it.
How has Kung Pao changed over the years?
The late show has gotten earlier, because I’ve gotten older. (I was 31 the first year; now I’m 55.) The audience has become more diverse, too, although it’s still mostly Jewish. There also used to be a vegetarian buffet table, but that stopped because we needed an armed guard because people who did not sign up for it were taking from it.
What hasn’t changed?
It’s a benefit. The first year, on the spot, we raised $500 for the late Tamar Kaufman, a journalist battling brain cancer. This year, partial proceeds will go to survivors of the North Bay fires and Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Also, we’ll have fortune cookies with Yiddish proverbs (translated into English, such as “With one tuchus, you can’t dance at two weddings”). Every year, I email Kevin from the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory, he supplies 2,200 cookies. And some people have come all 25 years.
What can you say about 2017’s performers: Gary Gulman, Cathy Ladman and Wendy Liebman?
This is a “best of” event; they’ve all played Kung Pao before, some more than once. They’re all household names, they’re all very funny and smart; their humor’s clean. They’re friends and people I respect.
Who would be your dream lineup?
God, Jesus and Moses — and maybe Seinfeld can open for them.
Anything we haven’t talked about that’s important to mention?
Yes! Those who don’t have plans shouldn’t think twice about coming alone; they’ll meet new friends at their table. I created the event so people wouldn’t feel left out and like they don’t belong on Christmas; now we have this great tradition!
IF YOU GO
Kung Pao Kosher Comedy
With Cathy Ladman, Gary Gulman, Wendy Liebman, Lisa Geduldig
Where: New Asia Restaurant, 772 Pacific Ave., S.F.
When: 5 (dinner show) and 8:30 p.m. (cocktail show) Dec. 23-25
Tickets: $52 to $72
Contact: (925) 743-1282, www.koshercomedy.comCathy LadmanComedyGary GulmanHenny YoungmanKung Pao Kosher ComedyLisa GeduldigNew AsiaWendy Liebman