“Oh, my God, I’m in Israel! Oh, My God! Unbelievable!” exclaimed Jerry Seinfeld, the world’s most successful Jewish comedian, as he took the stage to perform in the Jewish state for the first time ever in a basketball arena packed with more than 11,000 devoted fans in the first of four sold-out performances.
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“Look at yourselves - how proud are you of yourselves, how proud are you that you got tickets to this show?” he asked, and the audience, many of whom had spent hours on the phone due to the high demand when tickets went on sale in October, responded with wild applause, as Seinfeld added.“You don’t even care about this show. You just want to tell everybody . you want to make somebody else feel bad.”
Seinfeld made few direct references to Israel in his hour-long comedy set, other than noting that the country’s name “has a lot of vowels” and that Israelis have two answers to any question: “no problem” or “that’s impossible” and during a riff about how the audience got to the theater name-dropped WAZE “the Israeli-invented traffic app."
The crowd responded enthusiastically, laughing throughout, despite the fact that some of his brand name references were little-known to Israelis, like Pop-Tarts, Gatorade, Cream of Wheat and wiffleball, and there was a lot of riff on playing golf, which isn’t a common Israeli pastime.
Seinfeld didn’t address the security situation, though the comedian who opened for him, Mark Schiff said in his set that he had been asked if he was nervous about travelling to Israel and said “I’ve been married for 25 years. Nothing scares me.”
Like, Schiff, Seinfeld, who said he felt “warmly received” in Israel, spent a great deal of his act on men, women, and married life, a universal source of humor, which Seinfeld compared to underwear. An ideal marriage, he said “offers a little bit of support and a little bit of freedom.”
He also paid a great deal of attention to a theme that many Israelis can relate to - the modern obsession with electronic devices, especially their phones and how lost modern men feel “without that hard rectangle in their pocket.”
“Our devices keep getting smarter,” he said. “Why don’t we?”
During his encore, Seinfeld took questions from the audience and was asked to say some phrases in Hebrew, a request which he politely refused to do, saying that he learned Hebrew “for my Bar Mitzvah and that was enough,” before partially acquiescing and saying “Shalom, how’s that work for you?”
Seinfeld landed in Israel on Friday afternoon, and he was already joking minutes after stepping off the private plane that took him from New York City to Israel’s Ben-Gurion airport.
Asked by a reporter if he was surprised that the one show he scheduled in the Jewish state immediately sold out when tickets went on sale and a second show was added - then a third - and then a fourth, he said with a smile: “I was very surprised. I couldn’t believe anybody bought a ticket. I thought they would all just stay home.”
Clearly undaunted by the wave of terror attacks that had sparked a travel warning from the U.S. State Department regarding visiting certain parts of the country, Seinfeld said he was “so happy to be back. So happy to be back in Israel again.”
Seinfeld was scheduled to perform two shows on Saturday and two more on Sunday at the Menora Mivtachim Arena in Tel Aviv.
The fact that the four Seinfeld shows are nearly completely sold out, despite high ticket prices, reflects the outsized popularity of the Jewish-American comedian among Israelis, and the fact that his legendary comedy series, broadcast for nine years, from 1989-1998, is still going strong in reruns in Israel, as it is in the U.S.
Since “Seinfeld” ended, the comedian has remained busy not only in a renewed capacity as a stand-up comic - which he documented in the film “Comedian” but also, since 2012, in his comic web series “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” which just completed its sixth season. In each short episode, usually lasting about 15 minutes, Seinfeld picks up a fellow comedian in a vintage car, shmoozes with them on the drive and over a cup of coffee.
In 2007, he served as the creator and producer of the animated feature “Bee Movie” and, traveled to Israel to promote the film. At the time, he joked, that he was doing his part against terrorism because a successful movie created by Jerry Seinfeld, Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg would certainly be “annoying to terrorists” and “if we can't stop them, we can annoy them."
Seinfeld said he felt a warmth from Israelis and that when they greeted him they looked at him “like a son.”
The 2007 visit was the first time he had come to Israel since he volunteered in 1971 as a 15-year-old in the banana fields of Kibbutz Sa’ar. During his 2007 visit, he quipped that "When I was 15 and worked in a kibbutz, no one was interested in meeting me. No one wanted my autograph or to be photographed with me. They just let me hack away at the banana leaves."