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Comedy couple bring love and laughs to Toronto festival

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Wedding bells and stand-up mics marked Ben and Michelle's wedding. (Ben Rosenfeld photo)

Michelle Slonim got into comedy to meet a man.

Years ago, she started hosting Jewish singles parties, in which she would invite unattached men and women to mingle over wine and snacks in her living room. Slonim would kick off the night as MC, breaking the ice with jokes and stories, before wandering the rooms, shaking hands and making sure guests were, if not meeting their future spouses, at least laughing a bit.

“I like being in the action,” she says over the phone from her home in New York. “I’ve always been acting – I’d always infuse that in these Jewish singles parties.”

As the nights got more popular, though, she wanted to improve her MC skills. So she took her material onstage, joining hundreds of other amateur stand-ups in New York’s competitive comedy scene. With a husky voice and broad smile, “I walk in a room and I drip Jewish,” she says. So she focused her material on what she knew: dating, being a woman, being Jewish.

As it happened, comedy would lead her to find her future husband – but not at a singles party. Four years ago, at a comedy show in the Lower East Side, Slonim met Ben Rosenfeld, a Russian-born comic who’d been working the clubs. They chatted offstage and, that first night, politely parted ways.

That encounter kickstarted a series of serendipitous comedy-club meetings over the following weeks. At one particularly late show, Rosenfeld was scheduled to perform after midnight, while Slonim went on before him. She spent the bulk of her set mocking Rosenfeld for snoozing on a grimy couch in the back room, even taking a picture of him and later posting it to Facebook.

After that, “We immediately started dating,” Slonim says. “My comedy is mostly about my romantic life – it used to be about dating, then it was about getting married. Now it’s about, oh my God, having a child.”

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Rosenfeld and Slonim are very different Jews. Rosenfeld was born in the U.S.S.R., where his parents forced him to have a bar mitzvah. He pushed them to immigrate to the United States when he was still young, where “I actively avoided such things as Jewish singles events,” he says.

Rosenfeld injects a neurotic childhood into his comedy. His material deals more with Russia than Judaism – he even wrote a book called Russian Optimism: Dark Nursery Rhymes to Cheer You Right Up – but his most interesting material comes from the intersection of his identities. For example, during one of his stand-up sets in 2015, he said, “One time in school I got into a fight, but my dad didn’t understand why my teachers called him in. He thought it was because I lost the fight.”

On Sept. 16, Rosenfeld and Slonim will bring their comedy act to Toronto’s Jewish Comedy Festival. Slonim will host and Rosenfeld will headline, while local comics Simon Rakoff, Asaf Gerchak and Danny Polishchuk round out the evening at the Regent Theatre.

Ronen Geisler, the show’s creator, caught Slonim’s set at the Broadway Comedy Club in New York, while he was performing there last December. “It gets a bit tough to find clean Jewish comedy in Toronto,” Geisler explains. “I’m always scouting for people.” After the show, he approached Slonim, who suggested her husband take part, as well.

Travelling north for a weekend is feasible, since neither one of them has a conventional full-time job. Rosenfeld freelances as an editor, writer and web designer, while Slonim founded a company called Drawing Room Entertainment, which brings private comedy shows into other people’s living rooms.

As for the Jewish singles parties?

“Once I found a guy,” Slonim says, “I stopped doing all of it.”

 

Ben Rosenfeld and Michelle Slonim will perform at the Jewish Comedy Festival at the Regent Theatre in Toronto on Sept. 16. For tickets, go to jewishcomedyfestival.com.