While working in investment banking, Modi Rosenthal, RIGHT, would imitate secretaries in his office to amuse friends and colleagues. One night in 1994, a friend suggested he step up on stage to do his shtick at a well-known New York City comedy club.
“The whole thing happened at the Comedy Cellar and then venues started getting bigger and better,” says the Israeli American comedian over the phone from his home in Los Angeles.
“As time went on, my act changed – rather than doing imitations I had more of a voice.”
Once Rosenthal, who’s known professionally as Modi, left the world of finance in 1999, he focused on his standup routine, entertaining audiences in the United States and Canada. “I’ve done the Montreal Comedy Festival a few times and have been to Toronto – I love Canada,” he says.
Modi is making a Toronto appearance at the Eglinton Grand for Chabad on the Avenue’s annual benefit dinner. The June 12 event includes a silent auction.
The benefit will help support the Chabad’s community-based Avenue Road Synagogue, the Jewish Women’s Circle and the Jewish Learning Centre.
Modi, who moved from Israel to Long Island, N.Y., with his family when he was seven, became interested in performing comedy as an adult.
“The first time I went into a comedy club was when I first went up on stage, but growing up I loved the old comedians like Alan King – even when I was doing comedy on my own, I always looked up to that genre of comedians,” Modi says.
One night the young comic met King at the Friars Club and he got some advice from the legandary comic. “He was very helpful. We met a few times and he saw my act. His wife’s a big fan of mine,” said Modi, who’s been compared to Sid Caesar for the characters he creates.
One of the hottest comedians on the circuit, Modi writes his own material, drawing on everyday life. “I find my material is funnier when I bring the audience to whatever I’m going through.” he says.
In addition to standup, Modi has appeared on NBC’s Last Comic Standing and HBO’s The Sopranos, and has had lead roles in films Waiting for Woody Allen and the award-winning Stand Up. He’s been developing television pilots and independent films since he moved to Los Angeles six months ago.
In comedy, timing is everything – on and off stage. “A couple of weeks ago, Jackie Mason was supposed to do a show for Cheder Menachem in Los Angeles and he bailed out the day of the event,” Modi says.
“I was called at four in the afternoon when I was literally on the treadmill at the gym and the rabbi said he had 250 people coming and they didn’t have any entertainment. I ended up covering it.”
The next day, Modi says the rabbis forwarded e-mails to Modi, saying, “Thank goodness Jackie Mason didn’t come. We loved Modi!”
Constantly working on his act, Modi regularly tries out new routines at his favourite clubs, Los Angeles’ Laugh Factory and New York’s Comedy Strip and the Comedy Cellar, where his career began.
“It’s [comedy is] definitely a talent. I’m always amazed when people tell me they’re taking a comedy course. I don’t know what that means,” Modi says. “It’s a craft you have to hone – to make new bits and make the bits you have, funnier and stronger. You can’t go to school for it.”
For tickets to the Chabad on the Avenue dinner at the Eglinton Grand, 400 Eglinton Ave. W., visit wwwchabadavenue.com.