Benji Lovitt never envisioned himself making people laugh for a living. But now, after seven years of doing standup, the Israel-based comedian can’t imagine doing anything else.
Growing up a shy kid in Dallas, Benji Lovitt never envisioned himself making people laugh for a living. But now, after seven years of doing standup, the Israel-based comedian can’t imagine doing anything else.
Lovitt, 41, will be performing Nov. 7 at the Israel Bonds New Leadership Ad Olam Comedy Night at The Chevra in the Northeast.
His time spent working with Jewishly focused organizations, including the Israeli Consulate in Atlanta from 2002 to 2003 and was the assistant director for Young Judaea in New York City from 2003 to 2006, inspired Lovitt to move to Israel, where he has been living since 2006.
“I kind of can’t believe the way my life has turned out,” said Lovitt, who has performed for audiences throughout North America and Israel, including Jewish Federations, Hillels, Masa programs and Birthright. “Believe it or not, a lot of comedians are shy.”
Lovitt was never the center of attention as a child, but in high school, he realized he could make people laugh. After becoming bored by his psychology major at the University of Texas, Lovitt started to write down jokes and practice. There was no Comedy Central or YouTube at the time, so uploading a video was not an option.
“I always looked at these guys [comedians] and said, ‘They are the coolest guys in the world,’ ” he recalled.
When he turned 21, he went to clubs to study comedians, but his stand-up career was a gradual process. It was almost two years — Oct. 20, 1997, to be precise — before he felt comfortable enough to do his first open mic at a club in Houston.
“To my surprise, I actually did pretty well,” Lovitt remembered. “In America, being a stand-up comedian was just a hobby, but when I came to Israel, it became a reality.”
He describes his routine as “friendly and non-aggressive,” and includes jokes about stereotypes of Americans and embarrassing mistakes they make when speaking Hebrew.
“Every immigrant has their crazy ‘fish out of water experience,’ ” he said. “It just made sense to talk about it. I remind people why we love this crazy country in the first place.”
One example was the time he got interrogated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security team.
“It was erev Yom Kippur and I was walking home from shul in Jerusalem,” Lovitt said. “I saw a cop car blocking the road and asked if everything was OK. He told me that the Prime Minister was in the neighborhood — I was right by his residence. I continued walking and decided to call my friend who I thought I’d stop by and say ‘hello’ to. In order to not be seen using my phone in the middle of the Holy City, I sort of snuck into a parking garage off the street so nobody would see me. When I returned to the street, not a minute had passed before a security guard is asking to see my ID.”
“My first thought was that I was getting a ticket for jaywalking — I wasn’t, it was Yom Kippur and there were no cars on the street. For the next 45 minutes, he and another guy detained me, asking me questions: ‘Who is the friend you’re visiting? Why did you go to shul so far from your home? Can we see your text messages?’ Eventually, they asked me to lead them to my friend’s place so they could check my story and question him, too. I guess this is what happens when you look like you’re ‘sneaking around’ near the Prime Minister’s residence — even if you’re just trying to avoid being seen on the phone.”
Lovitt makes his living by being funny, but he is all business when it comes to staying involved in the Jewish community through his membership in the ROI Community, a nonprofit that specializes in Jewish engagement worldwide; writing for Birthright; as a certified trainer for PresenTense, a nonprofit that uses entrepreneurship as a tool to grow local economies; and as a frequent presenter at Limmud conferences around the world.
And for anyone who has ever told him not to quit his day job, Lovitt has the perfect rejoinder: From 2006 to 2011, he whas worked for Young Judaea in Israel on thr marketing side and for the last five years, has worked as a facilitator at Masa leadership conferences in Israel.
“I feel like I’m not just a comedian,” he said. “I sometimes wear different hats.”
In 2009, the Jewish Agency for Israel flew him to North America to perform in New York, Washington, D.C., Boston, Chicago, Toronto and Los Angeles. His goal was to be funny without
being dirty or vulgar.
“After that, I said to myself, ‘I think I can do this,’ ” he said. “I felt pretty confident I can make American Jews laugh.”
In the years since that tour, Lovitt has created more material for his shows, as well as a new presentation about exploring Israeli history and society through comedy through classic movie, television shows and comedy clips.
“I think I have a good way of reaching people,” he said. “Making people laugh is awesome. I enjoy the science of trying to figure out what’s funny.”
Contact: [email protected]; 215-832-0747