The Jokes And Food Are Kosher

Magooby's Serves Up Own, Brief Tradition Of Comedy Cantonese

December 24, 2009|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,chris.kaltenbach@baltsun.com

Christians may have all the fun at Christmas, but don't bother telling that to the folks at Magooby's tonight. They'll be too busy laughing and stuffing their faces with Chinese food to care.

Continuing a tradition that began just last year, but apparently has been a mainstay of Jewish households for years, the Carney comedy club will be playing host to its second annual Comedy Cantonese celebration. While Christians everywhere may be getting ready for midnight Mass, the audience at Magooby's will be downing heaping bowls of moo goo gai pan and laughing at a bunch of jokes that might just go over the head of your average gentile.

"My family always went to Chinese restaurants on Christmas Day, because historically, it was the only thing that was open," says Magooby's co-owner Andrew Unger. "So it just seemed to make sense, on Christmas Eve, to have a Jewish show with Chinese food."

Stand-up comic Marc Unger, who enjoys the twin advantages of being both Jewish and the owner's brother, will headline. And while he promises to keep the humor largely Jewish-centric, the fact that he was speaking on his cell phone while Christmas shopping with his girlfriend suggests that the religious and cultural barriers alluded to here aren't exactly impervious. But with luck, at least they'll be funny.

"Traditionally, on Christmas Day, that's what Jews do, they eat Chinese food," says Marc Unger, picking up where his brother left off. "And the Chinese, they celebrate the fact that Jews eat Chinese food. It's a huge day for Chinese restaurants."

The buffet dinner will be provided by David Chu's of Pikesville. And picking up on a lesson learned last year, when dietary restrictions kept some laughter-craving Jews from attending, this year's offerings will be kosher.

Expect some gentle, if sometimes pointed, fun to be had at the expense of both Jew and non-Jew.

"I talk about how Jews don't build anything, about how we hire Christians to build everything for us. Give you guys a six-pack, you'll build us anything. The Jews built a temple 4,000 years ago. There's one wall left, we still cradle it."

Marc Unger, whose resume includes an appearance on TV's "Friends" and a weekly radio show ("The Fighting Ungers") on 1370-AM, is just getting warmed up. But not wanting to give away his entire act, he reveals just one more example of what to expect.

"I talk about how Judaism is great," he says, "but there are no great Jewish holiday songs. All the good holiday songs are Christian. 'I'll Be Home for Sukkot?' That's a terrible name for a song. 'I'm dreaming of a white Purim?' What, are you kidding me?"

Of course, both Ungers stress, gentiles are welcome, too; last year, when just under 100 customers showed up for the first Comedy Cantonese, about one in four were not Jewish. (As of Tuesday afternoon, the club had taken 110 reservations for this year's celebration.) No one, they promise, will be turned away, unless the place sells out.

"I think it's also good for the Parkville-Carney area to see a lot of Jews they normally don't see," Andrew Unger says. "For one night, gentiles and Jews can enjoy Chinese food together at Magooby's Joke House."

It might help, however, to know a little bit about Jewish culture and religion - to know, for instance, that a Shabbos goy is someone hired to assist an observant Jew by performing duties normally prohibited on the Sabbath (in his youth, Elvis Presley is said to have once served as a Shabbos goy). Such basic vocabulary help will make it seem a lot funnier when Marc Unger talks about the comic they hired last year, one Andy Klein, who everyone assumed was Jewish, because of his name. He wasn't.

"We just found out when he showed up and said, 'Hey, I'm not Jewish,' " Marc Unger recalls. "But we let him go on anyway. We actually made fun of the fact that he was the Shabbos goy."

Andrew Unger chuckles at the memory. "I never met an Andy Klein who was not a Jew," he says, "until last year."

If you go

The second annual Comedy Cantonese is set for 7:45 p.m. Christmas Eve at Magooby's Joke House, 9306 Harford Road in Carney (the show starts at 8:30 p.m.). Tickets are $30. For information and reservations, call 410-356-1010 or go to magoobys.com.

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