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‘You can’t run away from who you are’

Comedian Avi Liberman will perform a free comedy show at Temple Beth Shalom this afternoon (Courtesy of Temple Beth Shalom)

SANTA FE, N.M. — Avi Liberman knew from a young age that he wanted to pursue comedy.

“The joke answer is I didn’t want to go to med school or law school and that was pretty much the only other option,” the stand-up comic quipped during a recent phone interview from Jerusalem, where he was sticking around for the Shavuot holiday after performing some shows in Israel.

L.A.-based Liberman – who over the course of his career has performed on Comedy Central shows, as well as the former “Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson,” and is the founder of a regular U.S. comedy tour to Israel – will be in Santa Fe this afternoon performing a free show at Temple Beth Shalom.

Liberman described his material as based on life experiences and when he performs in Jewish venues, he pokes fun at cultural topics like religious holidays, and his trips back and forth to Israel. But he said he constructs his act so non-Jewish audience members can also relate, offering explanations or comparisons to similar elements in non-Jewish cultures.

Liberman was born in Israel, but moved to the U.S. shortly afterward and was most brought up in Houston. He has been interested in stand-up since his high school days and dabbled in theater during college, though he graduated with degrees in political science and Judaic studies. “Or, as I like to call it now, pre-unemployment,” he quipped.

After college, he moved to L.A., started writing material and pursued the comedy path. But early in his career, Liberman said, he initially shied away from talking about anything Jewish on stage, worried about being typecast. That changed around 2001 when his then-agent told him that he’d been asked to perform at the famous Montreal Just for Laughs Comedy Festival in one of its Jewish comedy shows. After he embraced that side of himself in his stand-up routine, Liberman said his performances only improved.

“In comedy, you can’t run from who you are,” said Liberman.

“If you were to ask any young comic, (they would say they) wanna be the guy on the sitcom,” he added. “Now I’m noted as the guy that brings the comics to Israel and performs there. I’m fine with that definition.”

Starting in 2003, Liberman began organizing biannual comedy tours overseas with U.S. comedians as a way to boost morale in his native country.

At that time, he said, “there were suicide bombings, terrorist attacks, and I just came to kind of support. I hadn’t been in a long time. And I realized we could give people a safe, fun night out.”

Now a fundraiser for the Koby Mandell Foundation, a nonprofit that provides emotional support programs for Israeli families who have lost loved ones due to tragedies, including terror attacks, his tours feature himself and three other guest performers. Over the years, the tours have attracted some big names: Robin Williams, Jeff Ross, Brian Regan and Craig Robinson, to name a few.

“It serves another purpose, as well; they come to Israel and see what the reality is like as opposed to the news is,” said Liberman. “They come back usually great emissaries of Israel. Israel has a big P.R. problem, so if they can help in any way shape or form with that angle, that’s kind of a bonus of bringing them here.”