It’s tough being a Jewish comic when your last name is Capozzola.
Synagogues and JCCs wonder why you’re trying to interest them in your act. The rabbi can’t pronounce your name when he introduces you on stage. Finally Mike Capazzola got tired of having to explain that his father is Italian and his mother is Jewish. He wanted to find some people who were just like him.
He found them in an African-American, an Indian and a Vietnamese-American — all comics and all Jews.
Together they brought their “You’re funny, but you don’t look Jewish” show on Saturday to an audience of 250 at Temple Beth Ami in Rockville.
Capozzola talked about watching The Empire Strikes Back in German — because he’d seen it so many times in English — Dickensian insults and small-town negative political ads.
He told about the time when he was growing up, when his neighbor’s dog had puppies. “We took one puppy home and named him ‘Exodus,’” Capozzola said. “He ran away three days later.”
Then there was the commercial he shot for a tire company in which he played a very discerning customer: “As a Chabad rabbi with 30 children, tire safety is important to me 24/6.”
He recounted a trip to Venice in which, as he walked down the street, an old woman opened the shutters of her window, sending birds into the air. A child rolled a hoop as he passed and a man rode by on a bicycle with a puppy and a loaf of bread in a basket.
“They were shooting a Visa commercial,” Capozzola said.
Fellow comic Joe Nguyen, Vietnamese on his father’s side and Jewish on his mother’s, raved about his trip with Birthright Israel, which sends young Jews to Israel for free. “You may have guessed — I’m half Asian and half Jewish — I like free.”
Of course, he doesn’t look Jewish. “People ask me, ‘Are you really Jewish?’ You’re goddam right I’m Jewish,” he said, tapping into the Southern-fried pride he learned growing up in Georgia. “And that’s gee-hyphen-dee.”
Nguyen enjoys reading the Bible. “But what I really like are the Amazon.com reader reviews of the Bible.”
“I am black. I am Jewish,” storyteller Gina Gold began. “My parents are black and not Jewish. I was raised Jewish by my parents.”
To unravel this, Gold explained that her mother had been taken in by a German-Jewish woman. “I grew up thinking ‘oy vey’ was a black saying.”
When she was older, she decided to convert. “Somebody said, ‘Are you sure you want to convert? How will you feel about being persecuted?’”
Gold’s mother sent the self-absorbed girl who was given to bouts of grandiosity to Girl Scout camp, where she tried out for the part of Dorothy in a production of The Wizard of Oz.
“This was before The Wiz,” she said. “I thought I’d be the first black Dorothy.”
It didn’t turn out that way. First of all, she couldn’t sing. And when she didn’t get the part, she decided to start a revolution.
“All of you deserve to be Dorothy,” she told the other girls from atop her soapbox. “We are going to rise up and boycott this play!”
“In the dining room we were screaming, ‘Hell no, we won’t go’ and the unit leader said, ‘You won’t go where?’”
The revolution was quelled when the unit leader threatened to call Gold’s mother. Gold eventually got the part of the scarecrow.
“Last year the first black Annie came out,” she said. “I just want to say, you’re welcome.”
Raised in Mumbai, India, Samson Koletkar “attended the only functioning Jewish school” in that city. For a week each winter, he went to a Jewish camp. “Always, there was someone from the West spending the week with us” to assist.
He’s a U.S. citizen now, and he likes America fine. But it takes a lot to impress an Indian.
“There’ve been Jews in India for 2,000 years, so we need some guy from America to teach us how to be Jewish?” he said.
As for not looking Jewish, Koletkar said that in America, it’s only Jews who want proof of his tribal membership.
Really? Are you really Jewish? Were you born Jewish? Are both of your parents Jewish?
The message is: “Are you Jewish? Wait, I have to validate you,” he said.
For the record: His mother was a Christian. She got married. Then she converted. His father was born Jewish.
Koletkar took the audience back the Book of Genesis to when Abraham became the first Jew:
God said, “From now on Abraham, you’re a Jew.”
And Abraham said, “Are you really God? Have you always been God? Are both of your parents gods?”
And God said, “I chose the right Jew. He’s asking all the right questions.”