Ophira Eisenberg stands up for Canada


NORTH ADAMS -- When Rachel Chanoff began booking performing arts programming for "Oh Canada," this summer's major show at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, she admits she held a stereotype.

"We in the United States make fun of (Canadians') stereotypical bland, easy-going nature," said Chanoff, Mass MoCA's performing arts curator.

"The culture is totally counter to that though. There is a really robust, rich, vibrant cultural scene going on there."

And Mass MoCA's most recent cultural import, Comedian Ophi ra Eisenberg, is among the artists who debunked that idea for Chan off. Eisenberg, a storyteller, standup comic and essayist, and a Calgary native, will perform in Club B-10 at Mass MoCA at 8 p.m. on Saturday.

In an e-mail exchange from the United Kingdom, where she was performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Eisenberg ex plained that her thought process at the outset of a performance has evolved through the years.

"I started by thinking things like, ‘No matter what happens, your mother will still love you,' and other similar types of desperate confidence builders," Eisen berg said. "Now that being on stage is so comfortable, I'm usually thinking about the wording of a specific joke, making sure I have certain lines right in my head, or searching for a last-minute riff I'd like to do about the venue or event. But mostly I think -- don't screw it up."

It seems she has little to worry about in that regard.

Eisenberg has been named a "Top 100" comic by New York Magazine for her work in the standup and storytelling communities. And Jason Zinoman of the New York Times said, "what she demonstrates is that storytelling can give a certain kind of comedy a chance to grow."

Eisenberg wrapped her first season as host of National Public Radio's puzzle and trivia show, Ask Me Another, earlier this summer.

In an essay summing up that season, Eisenberg divulges she prefers to do her crossword puzzles in pairs, not in pen. (Just in case "NPR Puzzle Master" Will Shortz was getting nervous about his rank.) Yet when she steps up to the microphone at The Moth or elsewhere to tell a story, she does so without accompaniment. No notes. No buddies. Just her and her wit.

In one humorous story posted online Eisenberg, who is Jewish, recalls being a young girl ob sessed with meeting Santa Claus. After years of nagging, Eisen berg explains in the skit, she convinced her mother to take her to the mall to meet Santa.

She sat on Santa's lap. He asked what she wanted for Christmas. And then she "went off script."

"I'm Jewish," Eisenberg said she nervously divulged to Santa. To which he quietly replied, "Don't worry; so am I."

Chanoff said she and others at Mass MoCA identified with the range of Eisenberg's abilities.

"When we are programming a comedian we are looking for people who illuminate the hu man experience in a deeper way," said Chanoff. "Someone who is funny because they are bring ing you along as they explore the human condition."

Eisenberg, praising the scope of ‘Oh, Can ada,' said it was time Canadian artists were giv en their due in a large-scale ex hibition.

"I will definitely mention I'm from Canada, find poutine irresistible, enjoy hockey, Pacific salmon and PEI oysters," she said. "I look good in red, say sorry constantly and love the Calgary Stampede."

In addition to paying homage to her geographic heritage, Eisenberg said the evening's performance will center on short autobiographical material, but she didn't eliminate the possibility of sourcing inspiration from the area.

"As we like to say, my material will focus on being funny," she said. "Although I should probably write some jokes on green markets and raising heritage chickens, right? Does this show conflict with a zucchini festival?"

Rest easy, Ophira; the West Stockbridge Zucchini Festival was last weekend.

To reach Carrie Saldo,
visit www.carriesaldo.com.

If you go ...

What: Comedian
Ophira Eisenberg

When: Saturday at 8 p.m.

Where: Club B-10
Mass MoCA, North Adams

Information: (413) 662-2111, or www.massmoca.org


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