Adam Shor, at right, and Eyal Wartelsky

Igor Huzbasic

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Two Jews Walk Into a Bar

A Berlin-based comedy duo takes on antisemitism through humor—in clubs and online—winning fans from New York to Tehran

Devorah Blachor
May 07, 2024
Adam Shor, at right, and Eyal Wartelsky

Igor Huzbasic

When Adam Shor told his father—the son of a Holocaust survivor—about Two Jews, his comedy act in Berlin, his father said they should change the name. He believed that it was better for Jews to keep quiet about their identity.

“I’d say, ‘Come on, what the fuck are you talking about?’” Shor said, “it’s over.” Shor was trying to reassure his father not to worry about antisemitism anymore. But in the wake of the Oct. 7 attack on Israel, the war in Gaza, and a resurgence of antisemitism all over the world, Shor has had to rethink that answer.

Shor, 39, and his comedy partner, Eyal Wartelsky, 27, started performing together 4 1/2 years ago. The decision to call themselves Two Jews started as a joke.

“It felt like the beginning of every Jew joke you ever heard,” said Shor. “‘Two Jews walk into a bar …’”

Though it works as a setup, “Two Jews” was never their punchline; Shor and Wartelsky don’t deliver “Jewish humor” a la Jackie Mason. Instead, they’ve built their act around a hybrid of standup, original music, improvised songs, and dark humor.

But even if Jewish humor doesn’t characterize their act, the fact that they’re Jewish, and advertise this identity in their name, affects them, their comedy, and the way audiences react.

Shor and Wartelsky say they’ve had audience members walk out on them recently after being introduced as Two Jews—although that also happened before Oct. 7. They’ve gone onstage following comedians who deliver antisemitic material, like one who called Jews “crybabies” a few days after the Oct. 7 attacks. And they’ve had online content removed from their social media channels.

Wartelsky grew up in Haifa, and Shor, though Israeli-born, spent most of his life in New York. Like many Jewish and Israeli people around the world, they found it difficult to function after Oct. 7. They couldn’t perform comedy in the first few months, except for shows they’d already booked, which they did in a disconnected daze.

“For me, it was just so hard to think about anything else,” Shor said. “Certainly, it was very hard to be funny.”

“To do your job is very weird,” Wartelsky said. “Because you still need to do your job to pay rent, but your job is to make people laugh and you don’t want to make them laugh … You have jokes about being on a train, and you’re like, that means nothing now, because everybody’s getting murdered.”

In Wartelsky’s case, a story helped him find humor again, and surprisingly, it was something that happened on Oct. 7: “I have a story about Rachel from Ofakim,” he said. “It’s this woman who was held hostage in her own house.”

Wartelsky is referring to Rachel Edry, whose house was invaded. The grandmother, who was held at gunpoint and threatened with a grenade during the ordeal, served the five gunmen tea and cookies, keeping them occupied for over 15 hours—in the process keeping herself, and her husband, alive.

“It was funny,” Wartelsky said. “Like this woman is a funny woman and the situation is so absurd.”

But though Wartelsky found his way back to comedy, telling the story meant confronting those who see Hamas gunmen as heroes. “When you say terrorist, people are like, you mean ‘freedom fighters,’ right?” he said. “I’m like, no, I mean terrorists.”

At another show some four months later in Berlin’s Neukölln neighborhood, Wartelsky had no intention of talking about Israel or anything related to Judaism. Then the emcee introduced him as a comedian from Israel, adding, “But he’s OK … for an Israeli.”

“I went on stage and I felt the hostility from the crowd,” Wartelsky said, realizing he had to rewrite his entire act in a flash. “And then I said, ‘That’s the weirdest way that someone brought me up on stage. I don’t know if it’s a compliment, but thank you. I’ll take it anyway—like we took Palestine.’ Then everybody was laughing in shock.”

And though he hadn’t created the initial tension, Wartelsky knew how to break it: “I was like, you see, I didn’t want to make this joke. I didn’t want to talk about it, but you made me. Let’s talk about something lighter. Let’s talk about the Holocaust.”

Two Jews are touring again now, with upcoming dates in Rome, Milan, and Frankfurt, among other cities. They haven’t noticed any reluctance from clubs booking their act, although they point out that there were clubs they couldn’t work with anyway, because those venues are “super woke” and never welcomed their brand of humor.

Who else may tell Nazi jokes on stage?

Günter Steinmeyer, the booker at Z Bar Berlin, where Two Jews often perform, said he’s happy to have the duo in their lineup, particularly as it signifies having Jewish life back on stage in Berlin. “Besides,” he quipped, “who else may tell Nazi jokes on stage?”

Two Jews haven’t just returned to standup—they’ve also resumed making clips for their social media channels. The clips, which they began producing a year ago, have been enormously successful, with some earning them tens of thousands of views and shares, along with millions of likes.

Thanks to the viral clips, they’ve had the ultimate celeb experience of being recognized on the street—in Berlin, Israel, and even in a New York comedy club. But using social media is also complicated, and they’ve gotten their fair share of hate comments.

“I read all the comments because I’m a narcissist,” Shor joked. One of his favorites, he says, read: “typical jews playing the victim card again. ”The comment appeared under a video where the comedians sing about the experience of ordering at Starbucks with a Jewish name. As another commenter noted, “so much of this comment section is hating on these Jewish guys for saying people are hating on Jewish guys—10/10.”

Thanks to their viral videos, Two Jews have a new, unexpected audience. According to their social media analytics, some of their biggest audiences are in Jakarta, Istanbul, and Tehran, which are regularly listed in the top 10 cities of the people viewing their videos.

Between their videos going viral, the surge in antisemitism, and their surprise popularity in Muslim countries, Shor and Wartelsky have found a renewed sense of purpose in their comedy—and a new commitment to their Two Jews nomenclature.

Ever since the Neukölln incident, Wartelsky says he’s more confident, and has accepted that he can’t control how he’s viewed.

“If we didn’t do what we do,” said Shor, “if I was just working in some office, I wouldn’t go around telling people I’m a Jew. Now we have all these followers … so I kind of rationalize the idea that at least people in Pakistan or Tehran can see what a real Jew is … They’ve never seen a Jew. They don’t know what a Jew looks like. To them a Jew is some bogeyman, some alien. So it’s like, oh, it’s just a normal human.”

And what does Shor tell his father now, when he urges him to change the name of Two Jews?

“Now, I say it’s too late,” said Shor. “I can’t hide. It is what we are … More and more I feel responsible and proud to have this name. I’m not a Jew with trembling knees. We can’t live our lives with fear like that.”

Devorah Blachor is a writer living in Luxembourg. She’s the author of The Feminist’s Guide to Raising a Little Princess.