Exploring Jewish humor

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“Bubba used to mean grandmother – now it means football player,” Cantor Kenny Ellis said during his comedy night performance at California Lutheran University.

On the night of Oct. 21, Cal Lutheran Campus Ministry presented “Exploring Jewish Humor & Music,” starring Kenny Ellis as the sole performer.

Rabbi Belle Michael, who organized the event, said that Judaism is more about the culture rather than the religion.

“For me Judaism is how to live your life with gratitude and joy. When I look at Judaism I want to introduce [it] from different angles, from different perspective. [It] not only teaches but commands ethical being, ethical behavior in this world and service to others,” Michael said.

With his son Aaron serving as the track maestro, Ellis presented music from his comedy CD, “The Man Behind the Matzoh Ball,” as well as his seasonal holiday album titled “Hanukkah Swings.” The cultural songs spanned from Yiddish, Italian, Irish and Israeli-based genres.

In the beginning of his performance, Ellis inquired where audience members were from, ranging from Chicago, Boston and even New York. Although the origins of the crowd were diverse, Ellis said that he was bringing the spirit of Israel to Cal Lutheran.

“Because the agents and managers didn’t work out, I became a cantor and I’ve been a cantor for 30 years and met my wife at my first synagogue. I’m at my third synagogue in Santa Clarita, and we do a lot of singing and have a lot of fun. The Rabbi and I go up and back,” Ellis said.

Toward the middle of his act, Ellis impersonated various Jewish television hosts such as Ed Sullivan, Jackie Mason and Lawrence Welk.

He then proceeded to mime instruments and lip-sync opera, which resulted in an intentional fall to the stage floor. His planned finale caused ripples of laughter to emerge from the large crowd.
Toward the end Ellis featured sound bites from the 1965 comedy album “You Don’t Have to Be Jewish,” highlighting extended jokes that everyone was able to understand.

“I see university commitment to be a service to the public. We also want to do something good for the greater community of Conejo Valley. All are welcome, so this event is open to the public. That’s how we serve our community, by providing content and education,” Belle said.

Freshman Yasselle Peña, who attended the performance, said that she would describe Ellis as lovable, goofy and nonchalant.

“I gained an earnest sense of community. Even though it’s not mine, I felt a comfort and familiarity. I really enjoyed how he connected with the audience through stories and jokes and songs,” Peña said.

According to his website, Ellis holds a multitude of recognized feats including his role as a host on several Jewish radio stations from the West to the East Coast. He has also appeared at venues such as the Improv, Laugh Factory and the Comedy Store.

Ellis has worked with Cal Lutheran’s Hillel club as well as being involved with the campus’ Jewish holiday events such as Hanukkah and Passover Seder.

Presently Ellis is the cantor of Temple Beth Ami and teaches a Jewish culture course at American Jewish University in Los Angeles. He and his wife of 20 years, Laura, have two children, Aaron and Adam.

Throughout his presentation, Ellis referred to several customs within his Jewish culture such as kosher food. In fact he said that glatt kosher food is so kosher that you can’t even eat it.

“[What makes me proud] is everything. I’m more of a cultural Jew than a religious Jew. I love the music, I love the food, I love the people, I love Israel. It’s the culture,” Ellis said.

Leina Rayshouny
Staff Writer
Published October 28th, 2015