For the 30th anniversary of her Kung Pao Kosher Comedy show, San Francisco event producer Lisa Geduldig — not one to let a pandemic get her down — is introducing something new. Instead of hosting Jewish comedians in a Chinese restaurant on Christmas, she’s presenting them in a pop-up eatery in a synagogue.
Back live after being virtual in 2020-21, this year’s show, featuring Mark Schiff, Cathy Ladman, Orion Levine, Geduldig herself as well as her 91-year-old mom Arline from Florida on video, is taking place Dec. 23-25 in what she’s calling “The Kung Pao Room” at Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco. And for far-off fans or those with COVID-related health concerns, the show also will stream live, in a manner similar to “Lockdown Comedy” shows she’s presented since 2020.
The menu, from chef Angela Chou of Green Chow Down, differs slightly from what’s been served in previous years. It includes Kung Pao chicken or tofu, cod with black bean and ginger sauce, green beans with mushrooms and onions, eggplant with bell pepper and garlic and jasmine rice — but no walnut prawns.
“So we can’t have shrimp this year,” Geduldig says, noting that, due to the religious setting, Jewish dietary laws prohibiting shellfish are being observed.
The change in venue also stems from effects of the pandemic. New Asia Restaurant in San Francisco’s Chinatown, where the show took place for some 20 years, has been converted into an Asian market.
As the event nears, Geduldig is still working on how to appoint the room: “I’ve been normally decorating a Chinese restaurant so it looks like a synagogue; now it’s going to be a synagogue that looks like a Chinese restaurant,” she says.
Popular treats from Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory, filled with Yiddish proverbs (a Kung Pao Kosher Comedy staple since 1994) will be back, as well as seating at tables with culturally significant names. When buying tickets online, patrons can select between “Alan King” and “Milton Berle” with “Chutzpah,” “Kvetch” and more in between.
Also new this year are goodie bags with custom chopsticks, stickers, magnets and the aforementioned cookies.
Praising the talent lineup, Geduldig says Ladman, who’s returning for the fifth time, is like a cousin to her (as kids, they went to the same Jewish summer camp, but 10 years apart). Schiff, who has been opening for Jerry Seinfeld, she says, has Borscht Belt appeal. Of Berkeley-bred Levine, she says, “I really feel like he’s going to be a household name.”
She’s also pleased that sponsors including the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, the Hilton San Francisco Union Square, Amici’s East Coast Pizzeria, the Jewish News of Northern California, Alternative Mortgage Sources and Daniel Handler and Lisa Brown are lending support. Partial proceeds from the event will benefit San Francisco-Marin Food Bank and The Center for Reproductive Rights.
Looking back on three decades, Geduldig mentions that Kung Pao has many repeat patrons, in particular Shelley Kessler, who has attended for all 30 years. At the same time, she has noticed “a bunch of new names on the box office roster.”
She adds, “It’s really been amazing to have grown this family. It’s very nice. It’s mispocheh.”
Kung Pao Kosher Comedy runs in person Dec. 23-25 (5 p.m. dinner, 6 p.m. show) at Congregation Sherith Israel, 2266 California St., San Francisco, and streams at 6 p.m. Pacific Standard Time. Tickets are $30-$100. In-person tickets must be purchased by 5 p.m. Dec. 14 at CityBoxOffice.com/kungpao. Streaming tickets are available through showtime.