The Los Angeles Times from Los Angeles, California on January 22, 2008 · Page 14
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The Los Angeles Times from Los Angeles, California · Page 14

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008
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A14 TUESDAY,JANUARY22,2008 LOSANGELESTIMES THE NATION chicago —Comic Ray Hana- nianervously paced backstage at the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies and occasionally peeked around the velvet curtains to gauge the mood of the school’s packed theater. The downtown audience — Arab businessmen, a Palestinian professor, Jewish students and Israeli families — glanced curiously at one another and quietly chatted in their seats. Some fidgeted nervously. “Think it’ll be like Tel Aviv?” asked fellow comedian Charley Warady,an Israeli who grew up in the same South Side neighborhood in Chicago as Hanania. “Or will it be like East Jerusalem?” Hanania, a Palestinian American, grinned and rolled his eyes in memory. The Israeli-Palestinian Comedy Tour — which also includes Aaron Freeman,an African American Jewish convert from Chicago, and Yisrael Campbell,an Orthodox Jew from Jerusalem (and formerly aRoman Catholic who lived in Philadelphia) — has shared some unlikely stages and pushed the boundaries of political humor over the last year. The comedians’ goal is to help people laugh at the tensions between Israelis and Palestinians through their brand of stand-up diplomacy. “You can take a joke that, if we had a serious discussion, would really create an emotional argument,” Hanania said. “But when you do it as a joke — me making fun of the wall, Charley making fun of the checkpoints — then everyone laughs. And everyone’s unified for the moment.” Still, it’s tough to imagine anyone being able to giggle over the region’s ever-growing tensions. Recent Israeli ground and air attacks in the Gaza Strip have killed 18 Palestinians, including the son of a senior Hamas leader. Palestinians continued firing rockets into Israel, while Israel temporarily blocked all shipments of fuel, food and emergency supplies to Gaza. But the comics insist that, during times of intense stress, people are hungry for the chance to laugh.“We’re a bunch of comedians. We’re not going to solve anything. We’re not going to cause peace,” said Warady, who moved from the U.S. to Israel in 1996. “What we want people to understand, and to point out, is that the fighting is stupid.” Atongue-in-cheek mood emerged on the streets of Israel in 2006, after the militant group Hamas won a landslide victory in the Palestinian parliamentary elections: Taxi drivers reportedly riffed about how their orange-hued cabs would have to be painted green — the color of Hamas — and residents exchanged quips through cell- phone text messages about how beer brands would be renamed with holy monikers. The idea to develop the Israeli-Palestinian show came about in late 2006, when Warady read online that Hanania was writing a book about their childhood neighborhood. He emailed Hanania, and the pair became friends. After discovering that they both were pursuing careers in stand-up comedy, the men decided to work together. They recruited Freeman and Campbell, and booked a series of gigs in Israel, including stops in Tel Aviv and East and West Jerusa- lem. There was rejection from both sides of the borders.An Israeli company declined to book them because it didn’t “want to alienate anyone’s sensitivities,” Warady said. “I said, ‘Yeah, I understand, it’s because we’re promoting peace.’” When Hanania returned to Chicago last summer, several Arab American organizations that had previously booked him as a solo act canceled. “No one would come out and say it, but it was because I’d shared a stage with an Israeli,” said Hanania, who’s also an author and a political columnist. “It’s one thing to perform with a Jew. But the political ramifications of crossing that Israeli-Palestinian line are too much for some people.” Still, the quartet found a welcoming audience in a variety of venues, traveling from Haifa to Beersheba. Whether the audience was predominantly Israeli or Palestinian, Hanania said, the desire to laugh was universal. Now the quartet is getting ready to crisscross the U.S. over the next two months, performing at college campuses, community centers and faith- based festivals. The 15-city tour starts at the University of Wisconsin in Madison in early February, with a stop in Southern Califor- nialater in the month. Before hitting the road, they recently tested their material back on familiar turf in Chicago. For two hours, the four men joked about such subjects as taking classes from a “master suicide bomber” with missing limbs (“Can I defer to next semester?” quipped Campbell) and took swipes at President Bush. “Our goal is to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in six shows,” Freeman told the sold- out crowd of more than 400. “This is our 20th show. But we’re making progress. Our beloved president, George Bush, was in Israel and he announced to the world that it is time that the occupation must end.” Freeman waited a beat. Then, he deadpanned, “Thus, we are giving Washington back to the Indians.” The audience laughed at that one, but sometimes the punch lines fell flat. When Warady delivered a joke about how aseries of earthquakes in Jerusalem made him think “that if we can’t figure a way to divide up Jerusalem, somebody else will,” the largely Israeli audience was uncomfortably silent, before politely laughing. After the show, as the comics chatted with friends in the theater’s lobby, audience members approached to say thanks —and make a suggestion. “You should have even numbers of Israelis and Palestinians on stage. And a woman,” said Miriam Joyce, 71, a history and political science professor from the Calumet campus of Purdue University, in Hammond, Ind. Otherwise, Joyce pointed out, it’s not truly “a fair division between Israelis and Palestinians.” Hanania replied with a grin, “When we perform in Ramal- lah, we call ourselves ‘Ray Hanania and the Three Hostages.’ That better?” p.j.huffstutter@latimes.com Mideast not funny? They’re working on it A comic troupe of three Jews and a Palestinian aims to foster understanding through laughter. By P.J. Huffstutter Times Staff Writer HEARD THE ONE ABOUT... ? Yisrael Campbell and the rest of the Israeli-Palestinian Comedy Tour comics believe that laughter creates unity, even if only for a few moments. Anthony Robert La Penna For The Times ‘The occupation must end. Thus, we are giving Washington back to the Indians.’ —A ARON F REEMAN , member of the Israeli-Palestinian Comedy Tour miami — The nation’s ailing economy dominated Florida’s Republican presidential race Monday as the four leading candidates in next week’s make-or-break contest fanned out from Miami’s Little Havana to the Panhandle. John McCain and Mike Huckabee arrived in Florida to join rivals Mitt Romney and Rudolph W. Giuliani in the tightly contested fight for the biggest delegate prize so far in the campaign for the party nomination. “It’s really an up-for-grabs place, as it always is,” said Susan MacManus, a political scientist at the University of South Florida in Tampa. “You’ve got to spend money here to win, though.” On that score, Romney holds an edge in a state of 18 million people spread across more than 65,000square miles of swamps and flatlands: His personal fortune enables him to outspend opponents on ads in Florida’s costly and far-flung media markets. Romney went after McCain, the national front-runner, as the former Massachusetts governor set off on a bus trip from Jacksonville through Daytona Beach and Orlando to the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral. Citing home-price declines and other signs of a “weakening economy,” Romney faulted McCain for voting against President Bush’s tax cuts, ignoring the Arizona senator’s more recent calls for making them permanent. “I’m talking about lowering taxes, both for businesses as well as for individuals so we can get more money into the economy — boost it,” Romney told MSNBC. “Sen. McCain finds that to be the wrong course, and I think he’s wrong again.” Like Romney, though, McCain has called for new tax cuts to revive the economy. For his part, McCain opened his campaign for Florida’s Jan. 29 contest with a media mob surrounding him and his wife, Cindy, as they stepped up to a cafe counter for Cuban espresso in Little Havana. “Our race begins here in Miami with the Cuban American community,” he said. Cuban Americans, who make up roughly 10% of Florida’s Republican primary vote, are a coveted constituency for the GOP candidates. McCain, like his opponents, took a hard line on the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba. “I’m proud to have fought for and defended the freedom of the people of Cuba, consistently calling for continuing the embargo until there’s free elections, human rights organizations, and a free and independent country,” McCain said before leaving for Jacksonville. Also making pitches to Cuban Americans were Giuliani and Romney: Both began airing television ads in Spanish. The former New York mayor, who has staked his entire campaign on winning Florida after faltering in earlier contests, faced grim news from his home state Monday. Two polls found that McCain had surpassed Giuliani among Republicans expecting to vote in New York’s Feb. 5primary. The independent surveys — one by the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, the other by Siena Collegein Loudonville, N.Y. — sampled small numbers of voters. But they raised new doubts about Giuliani’s strategy of abandoning his efforts in the earlier-voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. Most alarming for Giuliani, the poll findings — if confirmed by other surveys — seem to undercut his argument that his popularity in Democratic-leaning states like New York show his strength as a general-election candidate. “He’s been barely a blip on the screen in these early primary and caucus states,” said Marist pollster Lee M. Mirin- goff. “He’s had to find a way to stay active as a candidate while New Yorkers are watching winners everywhere else.” For weeks, Giuliani has been campaigning mainly in Florida while his opponents competed elsewhere. With Huckabee kicking off his Florida campaign in Orlando, all four of the leading GOPcandi- dates are competing full-force in the same state. “It’s the first timethat all four of the major candidates have all focused on the same state at the same time with the same kind of earnestness,” said senior Romney advisor Ron Kaufman. michael.finnegan @latimes.com maeve.reston@latimes.com IN ORLANDO, FLA.: Rudolph W. Giuliani greets a crowd. He and Mitt Romney began airing television ads in Spanish to appeal to Florida’s Cuban American community. Joe Burbank Orlando Sentinel It’s all Florida, all the time now for Republicans The four front-runners are in the state, angling for its delegate trove. Leader Romney has McCain in his sights. By Michael Finnegan and Maeve Reston Times Staff Writers trait of himself. Museum officials agreed to asix-week run, electing to place the comedian just outside the museum’s Hall of the Presidents. Pachter values the exhibit in part because it is introduc- washington —The line outside the bathroom at the National Portrait Gallery has been out the door ever since museum officials decided to hang a portrait of late-night host Stephen Colbert between the men’s and women’s restrooms. “The lines have been extraordinary,” museum director Marc Pachtersaid Monday as he prepared to end his 33-year tenure with the Smithsonian Institution. “A friend e-mailed that it was good I was leaving with my dignity.” Colbert, who plays an egotistical conservative talk show host on his Comedy Central show, “The Colbert Report,” has made a running joke of his campaign to get his portrait into the Smithsonian. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History turned him down. But the National Portrait Gallery, famous for its portraits of the presidents but also home to unique portrayals of athletes, hip-hop artists and Hollywood stars, welcomed the idea. The comic offered “a digital image on canvas” that shows a portrait of Colbert within a portrait within another por- ing new viewers, most in their 20s, to the gallery, even if only to pose with the Colbert portrait for their Facebook entries. And it may well eclipse the publicity the Portrait Gallery won a few years ago when Pachter raised money to save the Gilbert Stuartportrait of George Washington from going to private ownership. As for Colbert, the comedi- ansaid recently on his show, “I don’t mean to brag, but as it contains three portraits, my portrait has more portraits than any other portrait in the National Portrait Gallery.” Then he added, “All employees must wash hands before returning to work.” johanna.neuman@ latimes.com At last, the Smithsonian gets Colbert NATIONAL TREASURE? Jacqueline Canales, 19, poses next to Stephen Colbert’s portrait. “It’s kind of sad that this is the first time we’ve been here,” she said. The Comedy Central star has made a running joke of his effort to be hung in the Smithsonian. Jacquelyn Martin Associated Press The comedian’s ‘digital image on canvas’ (times three) attracts crowds to the National Portrait Gallery. By Johanna Neuman Times Staff Writer LAMN_01-22-2008_A_14_A14_LA_1_K T Set:01-21-200822:00

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