August 15, 2023
Barbara Brooks, the founder and producing artistic director of Six Points Theater, has helped bring hundreds of plays and musicals to audiences in the Twin Cities, including 13 world premieres. But to start its 29th season this week, Brooks is trying something completely different.
Elise Cole will be performing during Six Points Theater's
'Kvell & Chuckle' on Thursday, Aug. 17. (Courtesy).
Six Points Theater will present “Kvell & Chuckle,” a series of programs that explore and celebrate Jewish humor in all its forms, starting on Wednesday, Aug. 16. It is a first-of-its-kind event at Six Points Theater, partly because Brooks noticed audiences wanting different kinds of programming coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, like comedy.
“We’ve never really done an exploration of Jewish humor, which I think is really infused into our lives, regardless of what cultural background you’re from,” Brooks said.
The event consists of four different programs across one week. All programs are held at the Highland Park Community Center Theater (1978 Ford Parkway, St. Paul).
The first program, held on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., features a panel of five artists, including Brooks herself, as they discuss Jewish humor on the stage and how it developed over time. This event is free with reservations required.
This Thursday’s event, a stand-up comedy performance by local comic Elise Cole, looks at marriage, motherhood, censorship, cancel culture, and being Jewish. Cole’s performance is at 7:30 p.m. and is $20.
The third event, held on Aug. 22 at 7:30 p.m., is with Dan Schlissel, a Grammy-winning record producer, as he analyzes “Mad Magazine” and Jewish influence on American humor and culture. This program is also free with reservations required.
The fourth and final program is on Aug. 24 at 7:30 p.m. Wendy Kout, a writer and producer who worked on “Mork & Mindy” and created the cult television show “Anything but Love,” will discuss Jewish comedy and its influence on TV. This event is free with reservations required.
When planning “Kvell & Chuckle,” Brooks knew she wanted to cover as many aspects of Jewish humor as possible.
“I just knew that humor was such a part of different aspects of entertainment, you know, the entertainment industry and I just wanted to try and capture as much as we could,” Brooks said.
Cole, the stand-up comic performing this Thursday, said she grew up listening to her father’s comedy vinyl records that featured the likes of George Carlin, Bill Cosby and Steve Martin. She credits this upbringing with inspiring her comedic style.
“Having the experience of having listened to a full one-hour comedy special from beginning to end has shaped the way that I write jokes and the way that I tell jokes,” Cole said.
While she didn’t have a lot of theatrical performing experience before joining the stand-up comedy scene, Cole was a competitive gymnast for 10 years and waited tables for 20. She said her gymnastics background helped give her experience with performing choreography in front of large groups of people and her service background helped her with speaking in front of people and “making them comfortable.”
However, it wasn’t until Cole was waiting tables one night when a customer encouraged her to try stand-up comedy that she decided to pursue the field. That customer, who was an original company member at the Brave New Workshop in the 1970s, turned into her mentor.
Cole described her comedic style as one that primarily uses storytelling and interconnected jokes. In her stand-up sets, she tackles themes like marriage, motherhood, censorship, antisemitism and being a Jew in the Midwest.
Kout, who will be speaking on Aug. 24 about Jewish comedy on TV, said she was never much of a performer herself, but loved writing stories and putting on plays with neighborhood kids in her backyard.
“I think I was really blessed that, because I was a creative and I was a creative since childhood, I was really blessed to have parents and an older brother that absolutely encouraged that,” Kout said.
Before turning to the writing field, Kout taught Sunday school in college to explore a potential teaching career because she thought it could lead her to a meaningful life. She quickly learned it was not for her.
“After 20 minutes wanting to kill the children, I didn’t think that was going to be a good career,” she joked.
Kout’s first work in the TV industry was as a writer, program consultant and story editor for “Mork & Mindy.” A few years later, she created “Anything but Love” and put a Jewish-romantic-lead character, named Marty Gold, on TV. She considers this character to be her proudest achievement while working on the show, considering how difficult it was to get Jewish characters on TV.
“I didn’t think it was hard to be Jewish in the entertainment industry. I thought it was hard to get Jewish characters on screen,” Kout said.
While Kout started in TV writing, she has branched out into other artistic avenues, like film and plays. One of her current endeavors, a Holocaust-education play called “Survivors,” will be touring through Six Points Theater this winter.
Brooks is hoping “Kvell & Chuckle” can help bring in and engage new people with Six Points Theater and its work. She said events like this can provide opportunities for people to learn more about different cultures.
“I think it’s really important to have a healthy environment where people understand and respect people of different cultures and backgrounds,” Brooks said. “And the more you bring things to light in life, the more people can understand and respect others.”
To learn more about “Kvell & Chuckle,” visit Six Points Theater’s website.