At Chosen Comedy Festival in Brooklyn, comics lean into nuances of identity


(New York Jewish Week) — When comedian Modi Rosenfeld took the stage as co-host of the second annual Chosen Comedy Festival in Brooklyn on Tuesday evening, he stuck to an approach that has brought him success with Orthodox audiences: leaning into specificity. 

“People want to hear us talk about antisemitism, they love to hear us make jokes and make fun of it,” he told the New York Jewish Week following the festival, which drew a lineup of Jewish comics to the Coney Island Amphitheater to perform for a crowd of thousands, many of them Orthodox Jews. 

“They love specific humor,” Rosenfeld said. “When you mention the Persians, the Syrians, the Ashkenazim, the Hasidim — they love to be called out. People love that kind of attention when it’s in a positive way.”

But when he did a set at the festival, he also joked about another part of his identity that hasn’t usually shown up when he performs at Orthodox venues: His marriage to a millennial man. 

“My husband’s younger — 10, 12 years younger — 22 years younger. Ten and 12…” he said in a shrinking voice that trailed off as the audience laughed.

Going there, in front of that audience, was a change for Rosenfeld, who discussed being gay in a “Variety” interview in January, but explained that he didn’t incorporate that part of his life into his act for Orthodox crowds. He said he tailors his comedy to meet his audience — recognizing what they will find funny and what subjects are appropriate for each room or club. 

On Tuesday, Rosenfeld felt that this audience was ripe for the jokes, which he said he had been working on for an upcoming standup special.

Related: Deeply Jewish comedy is having a moment, even as antisemitism rocks pop culture

“This is my audience. They came to see me,” Rosenfeld said. “It’s my festival. I’m a producer, I’m a performer, I’m the host. So whatever I do is okay, ’cause it’s my show. It’s not a show that somebody else brought me in.” 

He added, “And so I felt the room and they were amazing. They were there and they were ready.”

Rosenfeld’s 10-minute set came during the middle of the show, which he co-hosted with comic Elon Gold. It featured some of the lineup from last year’s festival, including Rosenfeld, Gold, Jeff Ross and Jessica Kirson, in addition to newcomers such as Eunji Kim, Eli Leonard, Rich Vos and Ari Shaffir — who self-released his standup special, titled “Jew,” last year

There was a surprise appearance from Dave Attell, the former Comedy Central personality and “Saturday Night Live” writer. The show also included musical performances from the band Emotional Intelligence and Hasidic folk group Zusha, and was DJed by Lady Blaga.

The acts ran the comedy gamut from Kirson’s raunchy impressions of elderly grandparents having sex to Kim reflecting on the nuances of being an Asian Jew. 

In one bit, Kim related that her young son was surprised that a classmate, named Silas, was Jewish. After all, he told her, “Silas doesn’t look Jewish!”

“I said, ‘What do you think a Jew looks like?’” Kim continued. “And my son looked at me and he said, ‘Asian.’”

Leonard’s act featured bottle dancing and an unusually timely joke about Jesus’ death — made just days after Oscar winner Jamie Foxx ignited a debate on social media with an Instagram post on the same topic.

“If we kill our only carpenter,” Leonard said, “who nails him to the cross?”

Since its founding in New York last year by Dani Zoldan, the owner of the Upper West Side comedy club Stand Up NY, the Chosen Comedy Festival has gone on tour in Miami and Los Angeles. This year, it grew to include nine shows in New York City — including a performance of comedian Alex Edelman’s Broadway show, “Just For Us” — and one show in the Catskills.

“Jews are so dying to show how proud they are of being Jewish,” Rosenfeld told the New York Jewish Week. “What an amazing outlet to do it through comedy.”