J.A.P. comedy show entertains while defying a few stereotypes

OK, so four Jewish women walk up to a stage, kvetching about family, obesity and gentiles. Meanwhile, on a big screen, old footage rolls featuring five women either discussing their husbands, rapping off joke-jokes or yelling boisterously into a telephone. It all comes together with a piano man providing Broadway-style music. So what do you get? A touching and hilarious evening with the Jewish princesses of comedy.

There was hardly a quiet moment at the Parker Playhouse as the theatrical standup show J.A.P.: The Princesses of Comedy unfolded at an easy pace that was never overwhelming considering the amount of comedy being delivered.

The show, which was the brainchild of comic Cory Kahaney, featured three of the top up-and-coming female comics performing their shticks and paying homage to their roots. One of the best things was that the audience literally laughed through the evolution of Jewish women’s comedic styles.

The Parker Playhouse’s elegant ambiance provided an air of nostalgia as the modern comedians-Kahaney, Jackie Hoffman, Jessica Kirson and Cathy Ladman-introduced the five funny ladies of the past-via old archival footage-who left an indelible mark on comedy as the first women to do standup.

There was Betty Walker, who would wail into a telephone to her imaginary comedy partner Ceil; Jean Carroll, a stylish lady who’s deceptively simple husband jokes made her one of the first female comics on the Ed Sullivan show; Totie Fields, a heavyset loudmouth who won Entertainer of the Year in 1978, and Belle Barth and Pearl Williams, who were uncannily raw and raunchy.

“We have an enormous respect for the old style of telling a joke,” Kahaney said in a phone interview. “We tell jokes and talk about our lives, but you’ll [also] see the young new-style comedians trying to capture the old style.”

That genius juxtaposition kept the comedy fresh and on its toes over the whole night, constantly switching from gentle and made-for-chuckles to wild and bawdy humor. The modern comics in particular were surprisingly candid (“Why don’t JAPs like blowjobs?” asked Kirson. “Because they don’t like any kind of job,” Kahaney responded).

As the night continued the show became progressively funnier and more Jewish, which tickled the laughing bellies of the large audience, mostly composed of older folks.

“Are there any Jews in the audience?” asked Ladman, nodding knowingly to the laughter that followed. “Great marketing.”

Highlights in the show included Kirson, who was host to last year’s Homecoming King and Queen event, writing a letter to her big derriere (“Dear ass, you startled me!”), Hoffman’s duet with the piano man about the most important Jewish holiday, and Kahaney’s observations about dating gentiles, who never say how much a meal costs (“If I don’t know how much the meal costs, I don’t know how much to put out. At least with Jews you know where you stand.”).

Ultimately, Kahaney’s brilliant show proved exactly how funny female comedians have been over decades, defying stereotypes that chauvinism in comedy tends to brand them. Everyone in the audience was laughing, both young and elderly. The laughter knew no age and was loud and grateful until the curtain closed.

Rafael Sangiovanni can be contacted at r.sangiovanni@umiami.edu.