Jeremy Piven in Israel: A Falling Star Jokes Before a Half-empty Auditorium

A direct confrontation by Jeremy Piven, formerly the abrasive agent in 'The Entourage,' felled by accusations of sexual harassment, might have brought a stronger performance in Jerusalem. Yet, still, his charisma made it a very entertaining evening

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Jeremy Piven performing in Jerusalem, January 13, 2018
Jeremy Piven performing in Jerusalem, January 13, 2018Credit: Emil Salman
Itay Stern
Itay Stern

Fifteen minutes into Jeremy Piven’s short performance (45 minutes in all) on Saturday night in Jerusalem, came the first reality check, when in a half-cynical half-bitter tone of voice he noted that there were more people at his bar mitzvah than there were presently in the audience. Spectators at the Rebecca Crown Hall in the Jerusalem Theater, which was only half full, responded with loud laughter.

Piven, like many other comedians of late, permitted himself to joke about his situation: a star that shone in the skies of Hollywood, and faded until he was unceremoniously kicked out. Despite being ready for a moment of honesty, Piven left the reason for his downfall out of the show. After all, it’s not very funny to talk about seven women who have accused him of sexual harassment and sexual violence.

Piven, a man better known as Ari Gold, the abrasive and foul-mouthed Hollywood super-agent in the TV show “The Entourage,” started doing stand-up this past year. As opposed to artists like Seinfeld or Louis CK, who started their careers in clubs, Piven was an actor in film and theater. For those who have bothered to forget, he said on stage that he has won three Emmys and one Golden Globe.

Jeremy Piven performing in Jerusalem, January 13, 2018Credit: Emil Salman

Well, the splendor has dimmed and with it the characteristic sparkle of a persona who would not survive in today's MeToo era, for even a single page of script.

After the cancellation of the crime drama “Wisdom of the Crowd,” in which he starred, and the wave of complaints against him in the past year, it was clear that Piven would have to find himself an alternative source of income.

The result is a show in which Piven interweaves parts of his life on an eclectic journey ranging from past descriptions of a white, Jewish and frightened boy in Chicago, his bar mitzvah celebrations and a set of inevitable jokes about work in Hollywood – from the random meetings with Mike Tyson to the memorization of texts for “The Entourage,” which included talk about sex toys, in front of his mother, the actress who taught him the secrets of the trade.

The charisma, perhaps the most important tool for a stand-up comedian, is still there. Piven slides easily among various situations, and in general, he should feel relatively comfortable. After all, he came to appear in a factory for producing Jews – as he dubbed Israel on Sunday night, a moment after taking the stage.

Jeremy Piven performing in Jerusalem, January 13, 2018Credit: Emil Salman

The audience was made up mainly of American Jews, most of them skullcap wearers. It was evident that nobody had any problem with English or with the kind of humor that was imported from their place of origin.

When Piven told a joke about a female character that he once played in the film “Rush Hour 2,” he used the description “effeminate man,” because, as he put it, “today it’s impossible to say that word.” In effect, Piven expressed dissatisfaction with the fact that at opposed to the hate-filled character that he played and who became his trademark, today one can no longer use the word “faggot,” a derogatory term for gays now out of bounds in the politically-correct era.

An American man who ate up Piven’s jokes like hot rolls smeared with peanut butter, shouted in response from the audience: “You’re in Israel, here you can do whatever you want.” Piven wasn’t convinced and watched his language, as though he knew someone could be lurking to bring his next downfall.

Jeremy Piven performing in Jerusalem, January 13, 2018Credit: Emil Salman

And there were the inevitable jokes about Hollywood and anti-Semitism and Gal Gadot. After all, you have to find a way to flatter the local audience (“You have Wonder Woman, we’re left with Ant-Man”). In a parallel universe, and several hours earlier, there was a report that Roseanne Barr, another great Jewish comic who fell out of favor due to a big mouth and foolish behavior, will come to Israel to speak about the anti-Semitism she experienced as a Jew in the United States.

And I, a man with a small, frozen heart, was incapable of shedding any crocodile tears for all the unfortunate Jews expelled from Hollywood and didn’t understand why even they, people who were persecuted by history, are not allowed to behave and talk like idiots.

Back to the show. Piven did his homework. He understands that U.S. President Donald Trump, a man whom he apparently despises, was likely to be an audience favorite. After all, an American president who moved the U.S. Embassy to the capital city. Piven noted with a smile that other than that everything about him is shitty, and went on to a very amusing set of jokes about a meeting with Chris Tucker, during which he had to wait until the actor finished his 70 takes for a silly line in the film “Rush Hour 2.”

As a rule, Piven is at his best when he imitates others. Whether it’s an imitation of Tucker, Evan Wilson or Mark Wahlberg. He could probably be an asset on “Saturday Night Live” if he could erase the Mark of Cain on his forehead.

The audience, for the most part, laughed quite a lot. No belly laughs, but the sequence of effective punch lines filled the air unencumbered by any embarrassment. Piven could have joined the spirit of the times, which has produced significant and very funny shows like that of Australian comedian Hannah Gadsby, and done his soul-searching on stage. He could have dealt courageously with his demons, the ones that have brought him to sub-performances in remote auditoriums worldwide, collecting smiles and dollars.

But Piven chose not to do that. He preferred to maintain the façade of an innocent man, of an actor who did not transgress, of someone who didn’t become drunk with power. Well, the loss is all ours. At the end of the evening, half an hour after the conclusion of the show, I saw Piven leaving the theater and approaching a taxi that was ordered for him. I offered him and the woman accompanying him to join me on the way back to Tel Aviv – but they politely refused. What a shame, I thought to myself, it could have been interesting to hear more stories about Hollywood, without the need for punch lines. Sometimes it’s fascinating to listen to people who have fallen from the heights and to understand how they survived. Well, that didn’t happen on Saturday night, either.

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