Comedian Cory Kahaney explains why she's keeping Philadelphia's Moo Shu Jew Show going for a sixth year.
For Cory Kahaney, performing on Dec. 24 is nothing new: As a comedian in New York City who is also Jewish, Christmas Eve has always been one of her busiest nights of the year. But to hear the creator and headliner of Philadelphia’s The Moo Shu Jew Show tell it, coming up with her own working holiday tradition was almost as much about satiation as inspiration.
“One Christmas Eve, I did seven shows,” she recalls. “I did two shows at Caroline’s, two shows at Gotham, two shows at the Comic Strip and something at the JCC or the 92nd Street Y — and all of us Jewish comedians were running into each other in cabs, on the subways, trying to get to these shows, and we would ask each other, ‘Did you get a chance to eat anything?’ We were so busy, we didn’t even have time to grab an eggroll!”
That is no longer a problem for the New York-based Kahaney. If things hold true to form, The Moo Shu Jew Show will be celebrating its sixth sold-out year in Philadelphia, and Kahaney will have ample time to select from the banquet options provided by this year’s site, Ocean Harbor in Chinatown, before she takes the stage.
“I haven’t headlined since the first year,” Kahaney says, explaining that, as a comedian, “I’m not like Barry Manilow, where the audience wants to hear ‘I Write the Songs’ 400 times — if I perform too many times, people could hear the same material!”
In addition to her new bits, this year’s show has an unexpected twist as well. After being produced in conjunction with The Gershman Y since its inception, the 2013 show will be a solo venture. The Gershman decided to end the partnership so that it could produce its own event, called Kung Pao Klezmer, which will be held across the street at Joy Tsin Lau at the same time.
“I got a call this summer, and they said that unfortunately, they were not interested in participating this year,” Kahaney says. “My understanding was they were looking to do something more highbrow.” After her initial surprise, Kahaney asked the Gershman staff if they would mind if she continued to put on the show. “I felt it was my obligation, even though it was my idea and I am the producer. They said ‘Absolutely, you have our blessing.’ ”
For her part, Linda Steinberg, the Gershman’s executive director, says the break was necessary so she could move in a different direction. “My first event at the Gershman, even before I took the job, was the Moo Shu last year. It was packed, but it was definitely for an older crowd. Some of it was lewd and certainly not for children, and some of it was tasteless.” She added that she is focused on changing the Gershman from “a presenting organization to one that creates new works and programs. This year, I wanted to have entertainment that everyone could enjoy.”
When asked about the Gershman’s new event, Kahaney remains diplomatic. “I wish it wasn’t across the street from ours, I wish it wasn’t at the exact same time and I wish it wasn’t at a Chinese restaurant. But what can I say? It’s a totally different event than ours.”
Even with the addition of yet another Jewish-focused event to Philadelphia’s Christmas Eve (there are currently at least six events in the Philadelphia area; see accompanying Watchlist), Kahaney says that Philadelphia remains an ideal spot for a Jewish-targeted show on Christmas Eve.
“You get booked at enough of these things and you start to think, hey, maybe there’s something to this. And when I looked at Philly six years ago, the only option was the MatzoBall. And I love the MatzoBall, but it’s for single people to go out and dance and meet each other. Moo Shu is for couples, or parents and their teenagers, young couples and their older relatives.”
Kahaney stresses that her show is not for young children, but she is serious about keeping it clean enough for the rest of the family to enjoy. Both she and the other comedians on the bill, Mike Fine and Harrison Greenbaum, will do obscenity-free sets. She says that Fine, Greenbaum and the comedians she books for Boston “know they’re not to use the four curse words that aren’t allowed on network television. My audience doesn’t want anything graphic, and they don’t want foul language.”
Kahaney’s burgeoning Christmas Eve empire will soon include Baltimore (it expanded to Boston in 2012), she says, but if she has her way, she will continue to spend the 24th here in Philadelphia. She frequently references how she would move here if the right opportunity presented itself.
“I love Philadelphia so much,” she exclaims. “If they would put me on a talk show there three days a week, I would move. It’s got just the right amount of annoying, just the right amount of bitterness — it’s so much less annoying and bitter than New York!”
IF YOU GO
The Moo Shu Jew Show
Dec. 24 starting at 6 p.m.
1023 Race Street, Philadelphia