Kim Levone believes laughter can connect people, bring them together across cultural divides and language barriers. The Silver Spring social worker and mother of four has long been a fan and observer of comedy, and during the Rio Olympic Games she’s bringing her love of laughter and comedy to that city with “Brazil 101: Comedy for Gringos,” an hourlong show featuring some of Brazil’s best English-speaking stand-up comedians.
The six comedians she found, who do their stand-up sets in English, provide a humorous introduction to life and culture in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s second-largest city. They joke about the astoundingly beautiful Brazilian bodies on the beach and the number of kisses you need to give when greeting your host.
It may be funny, but, Levone notes, it just may also help ease your stay in this booming metropolis where for the coming week, athleticism, sportsmanship and the Olympic ideal rules. And there’s even a Jewish guy on Levone’s roster: Ben Ludmer, who embraces his identity as a “fat, funny Brazilian magician.” You may have seen him at Disney’s Epcot Center in recent years, where magic tricks and jokes are his shtick.
In the five years since Levone, a member of Tifereth Israel Congregation in Washington, put on her first stand-up show in Montgomery County, she’s become a full-fledged comedy impresario, booking acts around the country, particularly Israeli-American comic Benji Lovitt; producing an eight-week comedy competition in Brazil; and now, going for the gold with her “Comedy for Gringos,” which runs through the course of the games and returns next month during the 2016 Paralympics.
When Levone’s family moved to Rio in 2013 for her husband, Wiley’s, job, she no longer could work as social worker. She turned to stand-up comedy and began familiarizing herself with the Brazilian stand-up scene.
What Levone learned is that while laughter is universal, what makes people laugh isn’t. In fact, stand-up in Brazil is quite young. The oldest comedy club has been around just about a decade, she said, so she realized there was plenty opportunity for growth in the comedy business.
“When I went to comedy clubs in Rio, it was super interesting because when you see somebody perform and you don’t understand exactly what they’re saying, there’s all this other stuff to learn, like who has the audience,” she said. “How can you tell if they have the audience if you can’t understand them? It’s so obvious. And how do they use their body language and expression and tone? There were just so many things I started to appreciate without needing to understand the jokes.”
One standout difference was in the way Brazilians took to, or didn’t take to, self-deprecating humor. “I don’t know where this comes from historically or culturally,” Levone noted, “but Brazilians don’t love to laugh at themselves. The comedy there is just different: What people will laugh at, what they are offended by and what entertains is different.”
While Levone is not sure how long she will continue to produce English-language comedy in Brazil — she now has a team of workers she can rely on in Rio — she does hope to return to producing closer to home, here in the Washington area, as time permits.
Levone named her business Improbable Comedy for a reason. By day she’s a clinical supervisor at Lourie Center for Infants Toddlers, where she works with distressed families and helps solve complicated problems.
“I love that work and I would say that the very creative problem-solving skills that I have developed as a social worker have definitely helped me [in producing],” she said. “There is always a complicated problem to solve and not lots of time to do it, so you have to be on your feet, resourceful, competent, not panicking. They’re not the same job by any stretch, but one definitely helps the other.”
But she intends to keep her hand in producing comedy. “I really believe that comedy is extremely important, because some things you can only say with humor, particularly challenging social messages. I feel this way about the work I do in Brazil and about bringing Benji Lovitt to the U.S. I have seen how he has taken a complicated subject — Israel — and found a way to connect people with comedy.
“Plus, it’s fun to be the producer, the person who pulls everything together and gets to stand in the back and watch everybody laughing. I make that happen.”
For information on “Brazil 101: Comedy for Gringos” and Improbable Comedy, visit improbablecomedy.com.