Comedian Shawn Pelofsky. Photo by Van Corona.
Comedian Shawn Pelofsky. Photo by Van Corona.
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Comedian Shawn Pelofsky takes a stand for Israel

“If you don’t care to hear the truth, then I know some nice bouncers that will show you the door,” the Oklahoma native told JNS.

The light shines brightly on the comedian Shawn Pelofsky as she walks onto a dark stage in Hollywood’s Comedy Store in late May.

“This world has gone crazy. It’s a really scary time for Jews,” the comic told the audience of some 200 people. “Some of my friends are even hiding their Star of David necklaces. Not me. I can’t hide this face.”

“The terrorists are going to see me coming a mile away,” she deadpanned. “There she is—Barbra Streisand. Get her!”

The native of Oklahoma City, whose family attended a Conservative synagogue while she was growing up, now lives in Los Angeles, where she is part of a Jewish educational organization called Or Echad that gathers for services.

“People are always stunned when I tell them I grew up Jewish in Oklahoma,” she told JNS. “The No. 1 question I’m immediately asked after they hear that is, ‘How did that happen? Like it was some freak accident.”

“It’s all very simple,” she told JNS, grinning, during a video interview. “I was a child of two parents born in Brooklyn, N.Y., whose father attended medical school at Oklahoma University and then went on to establish a neurosurgery practice in town.”

‘The right side of history’

Comedian Shawn Pelofsky
Comedian Shawn Pelofsky dressed as Barbra Streisand’s character in the 1983 film “Yentl.” Photo by Azul Delgrasso.

Pelofsky told JNS that the Oklahoma Jewish community was tight-knit, and she joked that she was just one of 10 Jewish kids in the state. (In reality, there were fewer than 20 at her high school.)

“I was always proud of my heritage,” she said. “I will never forget my Grandma Bertha calling me, ‘Shawn, my shayne punim. When are you going to date a Jewish boy?” (The Yiddish phrase means “pretty face.”)

There was hardly a large pool of Jewish men from which to choose, she assured JNS.

“I didn’t skip a beat,” she said. “‘Well Grandma, there’s my dad and my brother, Derek, and let’s face it, sometimes that kind of thing is acceptable in Oklahoma.”

Having grown up in the South, Pelofsky was shocked by the global outpouring of antisemitism after the Hamas terrorist attacks in southern Israel on Oct. 7, especially by what she witnessed in Los Angeles.

“I really believe I’ve been living in a bubble,” she said. “I never thought in a million years I would see antisemitism like what happened in World War II rear its ugly head.”

“If I wasn’t publicly flogged in the South for being Jewish, why would I think that something like this could happen in 2024?” she added. “But now the ugly reality has set in, and I feel it’s my job to lead people and make sure they are on the right side of history.”

Comedian Shawn Pelofsky
Pelofsky performs at the Comedy Store in Hollywood, Calif. Photo by Shawn Baker.

‘Squander the truth and strong Jewish voices’

Before Oct. 7, Pelofsky’s social-media posts were comedic videos intended to make people laugh. That changed after she posted a heartfelt video about the Oct. 7 massacre.

“The video went viral, and so many people shared it. Unfortunately, I received thousands of hateful comments and even death threats,” she told JNS. “I was cyber-bullied, and even worse, immediately restricted on TikTok and Instagram.”

Pelofsky claimed that she is still “shadow banned,” meaning that her posts are less visible to other online users.

“It’s sickening how these social-media platforms have let all the ‘Free Gaza’ propaganda fly but have worked overtime to squander the truth and strong Jewish voices,” she said.

Pelofsky, in fact, has extensive experience in war zones, she told JNS.

Comedian Shawn Pelofsky
With U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. Credit: Courtesy.

She has performed for U.S. troops in Japan, Korea and Germany, and on bases in Bosnia, Kosovo and Djibouti. She has even performed at Guantánamo Bay, she said.

“Nothing compares to the couple of times I went to Afghanistan,” she told JNS. “I was actually told I was the first U.S. female comedian to be brought over.”

She told JNS that she met the comedian who was booking the Afghanistan tour at a Coffee Bean in Los Angeles. She signed a paper stating that “we are not responsible for your death and dismemberment.”

“Even after reading that and having my father, who was a Vietnam veteran, beg me not to go, I still did,” she told JNS. “Thank God, I went. It was truly one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.”

She was moved by the dedication of the U.S. troops. “All these brave men and women putting themselves in harm’s way just so your freedom is protected is awe-inspiring,” she told JNS. “The troops couldn’t have been more grateful.”

She found the troops were almost as grateful for her arrival on a base as they were for chaplains.

“Every time they heard there was a Jewish female comedian on the base, like clockwork, they would hand me a tiny Hebrew prayer book,” she said. “I still have those prayer books till this day.”

After Oct. 7, Pelofsky couldn’t believe how “it seems like all humanity went to hell in a handbag.”

“Living in California for over 25 years, I was always proud to call myself a liberal and have been adamant about standing up for other human rights, especially when it comes to other marginalized groups,” she said.

Comedian Shawn Pelofsky
Overseas with members of the U.S. Army. Credit: Courtesy.

‘In no way will I let hate prevail’

She has a large following among gay men, and is a strong advocate for and ally of the LGBTQ community, she told JNS. But she remains shocked by how that community has often responded to the Hamas assault on Israel.

“After all my efforts to make sure the gay community’s rights are protected, I can’t believe something as insane as ‘queers for Palestine’ exists,” Pelofsky said. “What’s even more baffling, is that some of those very men and women from the LGBTQ community that I have worked so hard to protect have uttered anti-Israel rhetoric to me.”

She noted that “I have lost dear friends for protecting the Jewish people.”

And she has some pointed words for her political party.

“My own Democratic Party has let me down,” said the comedian, singling out Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and the members of the progressive “Squad” in Congress, who she said have turned their backs on the hostages and Israel.

“I will do whatever it takes to ensure my Jewish people’s survival,” she told JNS. “Somehow ‘Zionism’ has become a dirty word, and we can thank the brainwashing that has been flooding our universities for years for that. Our system is broken, but in no way will I let hate prevail.”

Comedian Shawn Pelofsky
Comedian Shawn Pelofsky. Photo by Matt Misisco.

Not two weeks after Oct. 7, Pelofsky and a close friend passed by a business that had been vandalized with the word “Zionist” after an anti-Israel rally on Sunset Boulevard. (She had just completed a set at the Comedy Store.)

“I couldn’t believe what I saw on the side of what these monsters thought was a Jewish business. The word ‘Zionist’ is tagged on the side of the building,” she told JNS.

“I knew I had to show the world that Los Angeles is suddenly looking like 1940,” she said. “My friend that was with me helped me make a video, and that made the rounds and enraged even more haters.”

“On a positive note,” she said, “it did connect me to new Jewish fans and friends from all over the world.”

Pelofsky has written for several episodes of Joan Rivers’s “Fashion Police” and says Rivers “was the epitome of strength and heroically unapologetic about what we as Jewish people know is the truth.”

“She taught me something very valuable—never stay complacent,” Pelofsky affirmed. “I will not stay silent, and too bad for those who want me to. I have a stage, and I have the mic. If you don’t care to hear the truth, then I know some nice bouncers that will show you the door.”

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