Chutzpah! Festival: narrating comedian Ophira Eisenberg gets his kicks being a jack of all trades

It’s a long way from Vancouver to New York City. Or so it should seem to anyone hoping to make it big in what is considered the media capital of the world.

But one former Vancouver resident, Ophira Eisenberg, managed to cross this great distance, now settling in Brooklyn as a successful stand-up comedian, author, actor, NPR radio host and professional storyteller.

New York Magazine even included her in its list of the “Top 10 Comics Funny People Find Funny”.

In a telephone interview with the Straight, Eisenberg recalled living for a short time with a boyfriend near English Bay in the mid-1990s. She also had a place for a while on the East Side, “which was a bit undesirable at the time”. In those days, she wasn’t even invited to the local comedy festival.

Eisenberg was not a reliable child, so how did a child born in Calgary and educated in Montreal manage to settle in New York City and get his own comedy and trivial radio show in 2012, which airs on more than 400 stations?

“I’m supposed to practice, practice, practice,” Eisenberg replied. “You know, just because of a lot of work. There is a lot of work. ”

She said she lived in Toronto 21 years ago when she traveled to 92nd Street on Manhattan’s Upper East Side to do a stand-up comedy show. Following her performance and performances by two other comedians, there was a panel discussion with four Canadians who enjoyed monumental success in American comedy. Eugene Levy, Martin Short, Michael J. Fox, and Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels came together there to answer this question: why are Canadians so funny?

“They talked about Timbits:‘ That’s what makes Canadians so fun — the fact that they’ve turned a hole ball into a desirable product that people want to buy, ’” Eisenberg recalled with amusement.

Not long after, she moved to New York City, not knowing if she could afford to stay in the country. She now believes that what helped her as a Canadian in those days was having an “outside perspective”. She was familiar with American pop culture and much of its media, but she was still able to look at it through a “critically objective lens”.

This allowed her to “make fun of it to some degree because you’re not inside it”.

This month, Eisenberg will share stories from her life in her first appearance at Vancouver’s Chutzpah! Festival: The Lisa Nemetz Festival of International Jewish Performing Arts. “I feel like, in a weird way, it’s coming home, yet it’s going to be new, too,” she said.

Video by Ophira Eisenberg | Inside Joke | Moth Main Stage

In this video, Ophira Eisenberg explains why she is sure she once wanted children until she had breast cancer.

Find humor in stories

Narration comes very naturally to Eisenberg, whose autobiographical account of her life is called Screw All: Sleeping My Way to Monogamy. Sure, she sometimes had a rotten taste in men, but with enough work, she overcame that to become a married mother “at an advanced age, as they say so eloquently in the medical industry.”

She was also a narrator The Tina Radio Hour. It is a division of a New York City organization called The Moth, which has been promoting storytelling since the late 1990s.

Eisenberg said that although there is sometimes an anecdotal story within a stand-up comedy routine, what The Moth does is very different. She gravitated to telling stories with literary arcs in which a person is against something, whether small or large.

“You’re changed as a person, to some extent, by the end of the story,” Eisenberg explained.

She added that in real storytelling events, such as those supported by The Moth, the audience has different expectations. They don’t come looking for comedians to offer bite-sized items that elicit a great reaction and then move on to the next observation. The narrator takes audiences on a journey, sometimes challenging them to be “the best version of themselves”.

“It’s fun,” Eisenberg stated. “I also like to play with audience tone and dynamics.”

Her stories draw from her personal experiences, which include two battles with cancer and assimilate the horrific and, in hindsight, sometimes hilarious aspects of her journey.

“I say ‘ridiculous’ because I can stand in front of you and tell these stories,” she noted, “so you know by that virtue that it’s a little elaborate with a happy ending.”

Eisenberg also enjoys sharing stories about some of her wild experiences as a kind of naive and innocent Canadian relocating to New York City. Sometimes she offers lessons she has learned from past heartaches, like when she tried to have “the best New Year’s Eve ever and make it fall apart so grandly”.

“It’s like a TED talk but without that lecture feeling,” Eisenberg joked. “This is a true personal story. There is no specific call to action or prescription. “

Ophira Eisenberg is on this week’s cover of the Georgia Straight.

A very eclectic career

Over the years, Eisenberg appeared in Comedy Central, The Late Late Show, The Today Show, and on HBO Girls. She was also invited to the New Yorker Festival and created a comedy special, Inside Joke, when she was eight-and-a-half months pregnant.

So was there a guest on Eisenberg’s radio show that somehow changed her life? Without hesitation, she mentioned cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

The musician was on her show a few months ago to talk about a project he was working on when the conversation became a professional success. Ma told her that the key is to overcome the lack of curiosity that can deepen over time.

“He called it ‘beginner’s mind’ —taking a certain point in your life where you may have some professional success or you feel that at a certain age you have experience and expertise in a whole set of things,” Eisenberg said, “and what is trying to get back to that initial place of curiosity and wanting to learn and feel the novelty. Basically energize your next passion. Or the next thing you’re going to do. “

In discussing his own eclectic career, Eisenberg brought up an old phrase once used by a critic of William Shakespeare when the Bard changed from being an actor to a playwright: “mud of all trades, master of none”.

“We don’t usually add the real, true ending of that quote, which is‘ mud of all trades, master of none, which is better than being master of one, ’” Eisenberg said.

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