MAX ZAMBRANO – STAFF WRITER
Although confined to Zoom last year like most other people, comedian Benji Lovitt is used to going out and about all around the world.
Born in Dallas, Lovitt, who is Jewish, visited Israel several times with a Jewish youth group. He later spent his gap year there. He loved visiting every time, he said.
By the age of 30, Lovitt was living in New York City — but he didn’t like it.
“I had this idea that I’ve got nothing tying me down, so why not spend some time in Israel?” he said. “If I don’t do it now, I might regret it forever.”
That was in 2006, and Lovitt still lives in Israel. He’s also performed in the United States, South Africa, Australia, England and more.
“It’s a blast to be on stage,” he said. “There’s no shortage of material when you’re an immigrant, especially an American in Israel.”
Lovitt has returned to the United States to present his lecture “The Power of Humor: Laughing to Keep from Crying,” at 1 p.m. Wednesday, July 28 in the Amphitheater.
It is the final Interfaith Lecture Series for Week Five, themed “The Authentic Comedic Voice: Truth Born of Struggle,” a week in partnership with the National Comedy Center.
“We sort of say it’s a Jewish tradition to laugh to deal with adversity,” Lovitt said.
While he enjoys Israel, Lovitt said, it was difficult adjusting to life there when he first moved.
“Most immigrants don’t make it,” he said. “They end up going back to their own country because it’s one of the most unnatural things in the world to transplant yourself to the other side of the planet. Humor has been a great tool to deal with my experience here.”
Lovitt said Jewish history involved thousands of years of persecution, and a sense of humor is something that’s helped Jews through adversity. Israel as a country, too, gives Lovitt plenty of stand-up material, he said.
“Israel is where the East meets the West, where old meets new, where religion meets secular,” he said. “It’s a young country, and when you’re an immigrant with an outside pair of eyes, everything is different, so it’s not hard to come up with things to laugh at or comment on.”
His outsider points of view have been published across Israeli media and in USA Today, BBC Radio, Time and The Atlantic. Now that Lovitt has learned about himself and his character on stage — which he said was the hardest part of his career — he feels comfortable making jokes about more serious topics.
“There’s almost nothing that can’t be mocked if done appropriately by a professional,” he said. “I feel like this is the year when the world sort of figured that out.”
COVID-19 halted most normal aspects of life, but Lovitt said people didn’t stop laughing. He’ll discuss this, plus his experiences in Israel, during his lecture.
“We have to laugh or we’ll lose our minds,” he said. “We should never feel guilt laughing, even during tough times. Just as it’s perfectly human to cry, it’s equally human to laugh.”
Lovitt felt comfortable laughing through the pandemic because of this mindset, and he was happy to see others were understanding that mindset.
“The feedback I got from the public was, ‘Yes, we need to laugh. We need you to entertain us because we’re suffering here,’ ” he said.