Temple Solel in Bowie will be hosting an unorthodox (literally and figuratively) Jewish comedy act on March 25 as part of its annual fundraising event, which commemorates the Temple’s 53rd anniversary.
The act, “You’re Funny, But You Don’t Look Jewish,” is performed by a troupe of four Jews that many would not identify as Jewish based on their looks. The group is closing in on 40 shows and has sold out nearly all of them.
The show’s producer and host is an Italian Jew named Michael Capozzola. He is accompanied by Gina Gold, an African-American Jew; Samson Koletkar, a Jew raised in India; and Joe Nyugen, a Jew of Vietnamese ancestry. Capozzola, 47, had performed with Koletkar and Nyugen before, but the act as it is today came together after he saw Gold perform.
“I did a show with Gina, a storyteller, and she mentioned in the show that she is Jewish, and it all sort of clicked,” said Capozzola. “Like myself, they were all undercover Jews in a sense — not someone you would automatically identify as Jewish based on name or appearance. We had individual, separate enough personalities to create a themed show.”
Gold, 51, had a unique upbringing which much of her routine revolves around. Although her family was not originally Jewish, Gold’s mother was taken in and raised by a Jewish woman in New York, and raised her own kids as Jewish too, although she would not admit to it. Gold got into comedy by impersonating her mother, who has a thick New York accent and uses a lot of Yiddish words in everyday conversation.
Capozzola explained that the show is such a hit because although it is inherently Jewish, it is not exhaustively so. “We talk about our families and our relation to Judaism, but not exclusively,” he said, explaining that guests that are not Jewish can still appreciate the show fully.
While there might be one or two words or concepts that need to be clarified, for the most part, people will understand all of the jokes based on context. Most of the jokes stem from the comedians’ own interactions with members of the Jewish community.
For example, Koletkar, 40, grew up in India before moving to the United States 16 years ago. He explained that in India, people did not really know what Jewish meant, because the Jewish population is between 5,000 and 6,000 in a country with nearly one billion people.
“A lot of the frustrations that I had in my childhood now come up in my comedy,” he said. “With my comedy in general, I wasn’t raised in America so I don’t know all of the insider jokes that Americans have about Jews. Initially, I thought that it was a handicap, but years later, I realized that it was an advantage to have a fresh, outsider’s perspective and that became an asset rather than a liability. It is not so much looking in as it is looking outward. Touchy subjects put you in uncomfortable positions sometimes, but that is where the best humor comes from.”
One topic is that Koletkar and his wife adopted an American child. “Normally, it is the other way around! It is usually Americans adopting a kid from a third world country,” he joked.
Koletkar also shared that the group is often asked how they came together in question-and-answer sessions following shows, to which he now jokingly responds, “It came together when Mike, the ‘white Jew’ of the group, found out how to make money off of Jews of color!”
Bob Michelson, fundraising chair for Temple Solel, was in charge organizing the event. The past few years have seen singers and dancers as the annual act. However, Michelson shared that the last comedian that they hosted, a rabbi turned comedian named Robert Alpher, also drew the biggest crowd they had ever had, which is part of why he decided to bring a comedy act onboard this year.
“We are the only synagogue in Bowie, so we try to do things that attract as many Jews in the area as possible,” he said. “I think this show will get people to come out to the synagogue as part of the Jewish community and make them feel good about being Jewish, particularly if they can laugh about it.”
The event at Temple Solel will have snacks and drinks available and will also include a silent auction to help with the Temple’s fundraising. The auction will include items such as gift certificates to local restaurants, Baltimore and Washington sports merchandise and travel prizes such as a free night at The Homestead.
“This is something that we are very proud of,” said Capozzola. “It’s a clean and clever show. There is no profanity, we don’t make fun of people in the front row, it is appropriate for all ages — we are there to entertain.”