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Jew of the week | Stand Up NY owner Dani Zoldan said bringing comedy to the world fulfills him

Updated: Sep 19, 2022

While most comedy clubs struggled in the past couple of years, Stand Up NY found its voice. And the owner, Dani Zoldan, found a new sense of fulfillment.

"People need to laugh,” Zoldan said. “I feel like we're making an impact."

Now, the Upper West Side club is producing shows beyond the venue. One of those events was "The Chosen Comedy Festival" with an almost all-Jewish lineup in mid-August — and it’s why Zoldan is Jew of the Week.

We talked more about his background, how he’s built the Stand Up NY Business, and what’s next for the festival.

Zoldan bought Stand Up NY at 27

Zoldan, who grew up in Long Island and New York City, spent his high school years going to comedy clubs, but never tried it himself.

He focused on business. At 24, he started his own telecommunications company. At 27, looking for his next venture, he replied to an ad that a comedy club in the Upper West Side was for sale.

He became a co-owner of Stand Up NY at the end of 2008. At first, he says, “I wasn't thinking past this club, I was just thinking, 'Alright, we've got this club, let's renovate, let's book comics, let's fill the seats.'"

A few years later he converted the black box theater upstairs into a podcast network and launched successful comics' podcasts through Stand Up NY Labs. He also started Skitish Media, an agency that pairs comics with brands to create content. Then, the club started selling online courses to teach people to do standup.

COVID was a catalyst for even more comedy innovation

Starting in March 2020, Stand Up NY, along with many other venues in NYC, closed for over a year. Zoldan said he put up a fight against the city — the day after he sued Gov. Andrew Cuomo, clubs were allowed to reopen.

But, it was also a turning point for Stand Up NY. He said the club evolved much faster during COVID and after than the previous years.

“I think during COVID is when we really found our voice,” Zoldan said.

Stand Up NY produced over 500 shows in parks throughout Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens. When it got cold, the club produced weekly Saturday night shows on the last car of the 1 train.

When the city let churches and synagogues reopen, Zoldan's team hosted comedy shows disguised as “services” in the “Temple of Laughter.”

"It was like prohibition," Zoldan said.

Plus, at a time when there wasn’t a lot of work for comics, Zoldan was able to offer paid gigs for them and keep his staff busy. Finally, he felt his club was really differentiating from other clubs, most of which were just waiting to open up again.

He realized how important it is to produce comedy, especially in dark times, and felt fulfilled personally.

Prohibition-style shows led to Stand Up NY Presents, which offers popup shows throughout lower Manhattan and the metro area, and getting into the festival business. Zoldan said the team is developing relationships with comics and agents all over the world.

"We're just trying to bring comedy everywhere,” Zoldan said. “There's obviously a demand for it and there's a lot of talent out there. It's a win win.”

What's next for The Chosen Comedy Festival

An August residency for Elon Gold, an LA-based Jewish comedian, turned into the idea for a Jewish comedy festival. Then Modi Rosenfeld got on board, too. The comics, along with Zoldan, were surprised this hasn’t been done before in New York.

Planning began in May, and they brought Jewish performers and comedians together for "The Chosen Comedy Festival," — one night of entertainment at the Coney Island Amphitheater in mid-August. The 4,000 seats sold out and the show got great reviews.

Zoldan said he expected Jews from all backgrounds, but didn’t expect so many other people to like that — and appreciate it. He said comedy bridged the gap in the communities.

“It was amazing to see Jews from Hassidim to Israelis to conservative, reform, and unaffiliated be in one place and it wasn’t about politics,” Zoldan said. “It wasn’t about Israel. It was just about laughing, comedy, Jewish humor, and Jewish comedians.”

He plans to capitalize on the momentum and build out a worldwide tour with mostly the same lineup. Cities on the tour include Miami in December in time for Hanukkah, and next year LA, London, Montreal, and Israel. Zoldan said they will make a couple of tweaks based on feedback — offering more food options and shortening the show by about 20 to 30 minutes.

The show will return to New York next summer with a new lineup.

"I’m just so happy with the way it turned out,” Zoldan said.

Mazel tov to Dani and the team! Stay up to date on Stand Up NY shows in New York City and beyond here, or follow on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook.

The JOW is revealed every week (or so...) on social media and in a newsletter. See the archives and subscribe here!


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