Unlike aspiring doctors or lawyers, would-be artists have no set career path, says author and stand-up comedian Joel Chasnoff. But even by the free-wheeling standards of the arts, the former Ivy Leaguer’s path took an unusual detour — right through the Israel Defense Forces, an experience he chronicles in his critically acclaimed coming-of-age memoir, “The 188th Crybaby Brigade: A Skinny Jewish Kid from Chicago Fights Hezbollah.”
Chasnoff, 36, has opened for Jon Stewart and Lewis Black of the “The Daily Show,” traveled to Japan and Korea with the USO Comedy Tour, and performed all over North America, Israel and Europe. He’ll bring his act to Tucson for the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona Men’s Night Out on Thursday, April 14.
He volunteered to serve in the IDF, he told the AJP, for Zionist and personal reasons. “I wanted to be a different kind of Jewish person, not just what I was used to in America, but a Jew who’s proud and can defend himself, and take on that persona of the Israeli that I admired.”
Yet there was a discrepancy between his dreams and reality, especially at first, as he relates in “Crybaby Brigade”: “I’m dressed like a soldier but I look like a clown. My uniform’s three sizes too big, and it’s stiff, so it looks like I’m wearing a suit of green construction paper… my last name, according to my dog tags, is now Shetznitz. ‘You misspelled my name,’ I said to the guy at the dog tag machine. ‘So don’t die,’ he said and shooed me out the door.”
Toward the end of his service, Chasnoff’s platoon saw action in Lebanon and there were frightening times when he wondered “how anyone would survive.” Yet some of the most memorable moments, he says, involved just getting through basic training without being yelled at too much.
In Tucson, he says, he’ll talk about the IDF but also riff on the foibles of modern American life, such as his experiences in Jewish day school, where basketball games against Catholic schools “became almost a religious war.”
Men’s Night Out will also honor Paul Baker with the second annual Jewish MENtor award. Baker was a founding member of the Desert Caucus and has served on the boards of the University of Arizona Foundation, Arizona Cancer Center, Young President’s Organization, Arizona Bank, Arizona Theatre Company, United Way of Southern Arizona, the Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Arizona, the Hillel Foundation, the American Israel Education Foundation, the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona and Tucson Hebrew Academy. He also served as a national officer of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
Federation Chair Jeff Katz says, “Paul’s devotion to our Jewish community is awe-inspiring. He is almost always first in line with his philanthropic support as well as with his time and leadership. He, along with Alice, truly is a champion for the efforts to create a strong and vibrant Jewish community.”
The event will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Tucson Jewish Community Center, and will include a deli dinner and beer. Tickets are $36. A minimum pledge of $180 to the 2011 Federation Community Campaign is required; for men under 30, the minimum pledge is $36; for students, $18. RSVP at www.jewishtucson.org/mensnightout or contact Karen Graham at [email protected] or 577-9393.