A therapist for two decades, Kim Levone spends her days working with clients who are refugees, disabled or heavily impacted by poverty. As director of a behavioral health program in Silver Spring, she also sees clients with anxiety, depression and schizophrenia.
“That’s the world I inhabit in my social work life,” the Silver Spring mother of four said. “I find it totally engaging and really interesting.”
But on evenings and weekends, she makes people laugh as the founder and producer of Improbable Comedy, which produces hyper-local comedians as well as those from the North Carolina to New York corridor. Since her first show at Vicino’s in Silver Spring — when the manager didn’t think anyone would come so the restaurant ran out of food when they did — Levone has produced more than 100 live shows. During the height of the pandemic, Improbable Comedy kept the laughter going on Zoom.
Don’t laugh, but Levone, 49, said she finds a way to imbue her comedy productions with the Jewish value of welcoming guests — hachnasat orchim.
“I feel like everything in my life is so infused with growing up in a Jewish community that was really intentional and connected,” she said. “This idea of hospitality as a very high Jewish value is really essential to the way we do our shows.”
A large part of Improbable Comedy’s growth and success — aside from booking very funny people — is being welcoming when folks walk in by showing you’re happy to see them.
“That feels Jewish to me, to be very inviting and welcoming.”
Levone doesn’t focus on Jewish comics. Rather she seeks out little-heard voices — those of women, minorities, immigrants, LGBTQ-plus comics, people with disabilities — in an effort to broaden opportunities.
So, nu? Have Jewish comics lost their edge in the 21st century?
“It’s not that Jews are not funny anymore,” said Levone, a longtime member of Tifereth Israel Congregation. “There are lots of Jews still in the entertainment industry, but other people are getting more time and more influence, which is good because, you know what? They’re funny and they deserve stage opportunities. I think we’ll see more influence of Black comedians, for example. What they’re talking about is very resonant right now.”
But she is quick to note that her comedy shows are not social justice shows. “I’m not tying to please anyone or make them feel guilty. I just want to open people’s eyes to new things.” She continued, “When people come to a comedy show, of course, it’s a relief and a release, but if they walk away having discovered something that feeds their curiosity, they feel smart because they learned something.”
Levone has also committed to providing opportunities for women comics and supporting the next generation of women producers. On Aug. 5 at Busboys & Poets in Takoma Park, Improbable Comedy will present an all-female lineup — “The Mother of All Comedies.”
“A lot of women are getting shut out of shows, particularly if they complain [about it] they’re bullied or targeted” by male producers. “We need more young women and LGBTQ kids coming up, both onstage and behind the scenes,” she said.
As for Levone, she doesn’t think much about expanding too far. “I’m fine with being the queen of comedy for Silver Spring,” she said.
“I recall being around my parents and their friends and just watching them make each other laugh the way old friends do,” she said. “It seemed to come out of this deep relationship, trust and good feeling. My aspiration with Improbable Comedy is to create that when everybody feels like they’re inside the joke.”