Israeli-born Modi Rosenfeld — now known by his first name only — is on a first-name basis with laughter. The comedian with a cantorial commitment — serving as chazzan at New York's Community Synagogue — is no fringe festival funny man.
Mainlining mirth? See for yourself: He's on screen on top of his game in "Stand Up 360," a comedy film filled with comedians doing stand-out work at stand-up, hosted by Caroline Rhea.
And Modi does stand out; he is sharp and clever, coaxing humor out of situations that make audiences sit down and take notice in this, the first of a series of "360" films featuring a clown's car of comics running through August.
The angle of "360" is comedy filmed at its New York live best. And each comic's take is so distinctive.
"I don't write jokes," admits Modi; rather he ruminates on how life leaves him in certain situations, says the 39-year-old who left Israel at age 7.
"It's about me on a Lufthansa flight, taking a spin class … you can't do life in a one-liner."
Fans? The line forms to the right. The comic/cantor is at full gallop: He has received raves and right-ons for his writing and delivery around the world. And "Stand Up 360" may be a 180 for his career, exposing Modi alongside other top comics to audiences who wouldn't know a tallis from a tall tale.
In the Modi for a laugh? The film, he reveals, "shows off [his] Jewish New Yorker feel."
But don't feel for a moment that Modi — whose film-making mode extends to an acclaimed short he starred in five years ago, "Waiting for Woody Allen," which was accepted at Cannes and many other festivals — is only about the ethnic market.
He's top shelf for universal comedy, "doing comedy all over the world."
And yet, sometimes a sabra is a sabra is a sabra for people who can't get their head out of the sand — Sinai and otherwise. Modi was part of a new Ben Stiller TV series which, he laments, was not picked up.
The role they wanted him for? "They asked me if I could play an Israeli." Beat. "I said, 'I'll try.' "
What tries his patience is stereotyping — though not in the Stiller case, whose style is smart and a slap-in-the-face wake-up call to the humor woozy — but those who have an orthodox view of the … Orthodox.
Is Modi the movie mohel to have final cut on the way Hollywood views the frum from their anything-but-kosher perspective? Can he … change Hollywood?
Maybe his "Changing Hollywood" can: "I've always hated the way Chasids are depicted in Hollywood," says the comic, himself not Chasidic, but wearing a white hat on behalf of the black hats.
Modi, who plays one of the Chasids strolling through the Williamsburg Streets in the film, offers more than street theater; it's theater of the heartfelt in its ambition to modify, says Modi, how Chasids are appreciated.
"Men in Black" need not be science fiction for summer sizzle. His take? "It's a love story done in frum way."
As he works on that project for mainstream distribution, Modi is having the last laugh on those who thought a former Wall Streeter couldn't break the fourth wall with audiences. On the street where he lives now, the erstwhile Merrill Lyncher has gone from bulls and bears to bearing the bull of what life tosses out its windows.
Yet he's so … nice. Nice guys finish last?
First, he says, those who finish last are usually not that nice to begin with. And as a good guy, he has nicer than nice credits on his bio: Modi is one of the success stories of NBC's 2003 edition of "Last Comic Standing."
He takes a stance on that, thinking his profession — "stand-up is an art" — got short shrift from the short-lived series, doing "more harm than good."
After all, wouldn't a writer "be offended if they came up with a show called 'Last Journalist Standing'?"
(Actually, given the business, not that unprintable an idea for a network to take on.)
And the comedian who's connected on TV series as well — with a stock-in-trade appearance in the "Mergers & Acquisitions" episode of "The Sopranos" and, this year, in a "CSI: NY" segment titled "Yahrzeit" — needs no candle to, the film's producer attests, "find the funny."
It's right there, up on screen. And right there, in his heart.