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Las Vegas comedian headlines first post-attack shows in Israel

Updated February 19, 2024 - 10:00 am

A couple of fans sent Butch Bradley a comment following one of his performances a few weeks ago. The veteran Las Vegas comedian has received all variety of reviews and opinions, many posted on Yelp and Tripadvisor.

But the comic with 25 years of stage experience has never received such a powerful message.

“Dear Butch, we don’t know how to thank you enough for coming to see us during a war,” read the note. “We haven’t had much to laugh about since October 7, and you’re caring (and humor) mean everything to us.”

The typewritten message was signed by a couple who had been in the audience on Jan. 17, when Bradley and his fellow comedians Avi Liberman, Brian Kiley and Peter Berman played a comedy show at Mishkan Theater in Ra’anana on the coastal Sharon Plain in the Central District of Israel.

Bradley was a long, long way from his usual Vegas haunts. He’s usually headlining Jimmy Kimmel’s Comedy Club, or L.A. Comedy Club at The Strat.

But in January, Bradley and his comic brethren performed the six-city Comedy for Koby tour of Israel.

Israel’s first post-attack shows

The series marked the first approved live entertainment in Israel since the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attacks on the country and the ensuing Israel-Hamas war. The Oct. 7 attack included an assault on the Nova music festival, staged in a field outside the Southern Israeli kibbutz of Re’im, where nearly 400 young civilians were killed or kidnapped.

The Comedy for Koby tour was established a decade ago to assist bereaved Israeli families in the aftermath of such terror attacks. The series is supported by the Koby Mandell Foundation, established in 2001 by Rabbi Seth and Sherri Mandell after their 13-year-old son, Koby, and his friend Yosef Ishran were killed by terrorists near their home in Israel.

The Mandells, whose son was known for his quick sense of humor, teamed with Liberman, who was born in Israel, to develop the bi-annual comedy tour. The couple nearly canceled the January dates, but Liberman convinced the foundation that he could assemble a show that would sell out.

Bradley was eager to participate. He has known Liberman for about 15 years, from the comedy circuit (from such clubs as the Laugh Factory, The Improv and the Comedy Store in Hollywood) and through a tour of Afghanistan in 2016.

Bradley has performed in two wars and in Israel five times, all with Liberman.

‘Everybody’s armed’

The Comedy for Koby tour played theaters and performing arts centers in Modiin, Ra’anana, Beit Shemesh, Gush Etzion, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Bradley said the citizens in these cities were prepared for combat while going about their daily routines.

“A mom is pushing a baby stroller, she’s got an M4 — everybody’s armed,” Bradley said. “But everybody’s calm. Everybody’s going through life. But there’s something when you walk up as an outsider, where an Israeli turns their head and glances at you. They deem you safe, and then they go back to their actions.”

The comedians’ hotels were filled not with tourists, but displaced families.

“We were staying at five-star hotels, and most of these hotels are now refugee spots,” Bradley said. “So you go into this hotel, but it’s all families, displaced children — over 500 displaced children — from the attacks of October 7. You’re in there with all the kids playing, you’re bringing in your luggage, and kids are running around, playing tag.”

Setting the stage for laughs

Each show opened with Hatikva, Israel’s national anthem, somber and moving. Rabbi Mandell and Sherri Mandell then played a video outlining the launch and mission of their foundation. They spoke of their loss, and the terrible effects of terrorism.

The couple further explained that sitting together, as a unit, and finding humor was the best way to keep their spirits up, to continue the fight. From that moment, the shows’ nightly lineup was built for the comedians to win over the crowd.

“Avi opens, and he does a lot of inside humor, he starts breaking them up, he gets the brunt of that responsibility,” Bradley said. “Brian Kiley goes up an does family oriented, hilarious high-level jokes, like five jokes a minute. And I closed every night, after they put me in the right frame of mind to do my job.”

Example of a joke that worked, from Kiley: “You know, I got a box of Animal Crackers. It says, ‘Don’t eat if the seal is broken. I opened the box, and sure enough …”

Stopping at the Nova site

The comics stopped at the Nova festival field near Re’im. En route, the van was stopped as traffic was slowed to a single lane. The driver explained the group was entering one of the original attack sites.

“This little road in this little town had been attacked by Hamas, and all the cars were in the same location, the windows were blown out,” Bradley said. “It looked like a Holy Crime scene.”

Bradley said he experienced a country “in a constant state of duress, 24/7.” The comic describes the experience as “life-changing.”

“I’ve always wanted to do things that matter. I went there to bring relief and distraction, and be there for the families of the victims,” Bradley said. “Every night you just go onstage, trying to be the best you can. It was very special to go out and perform, have dialogue with them, and feel the impact of the laughter.”

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on X, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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