“I'm a really practical person. That limits me from driving out to a club the city and coming back in the morning to take a test.” Nathan Habib's not living the rock star stand-up comedian life just yet. But that's not to say that Habib (who will be performing at Kung Pao Kosher Comedy's holiday run Thurs/23-Sun/26) isn't dedicated to making people laugh. He's been performing for seven years – and he's 21 years old.
Habib's standard promotional copy calls him “confidently awkward,” and this is actually how he comes across when I meet with him at Farley's coffee shop on Potrero Hill. I'm late, of course, and he's begun to read from the rack of magazines besides him, but he quickly shelves the material to say a very polite hello as I approach.
Habib is from a strong Israeli-Latvian-Italian family with a big social network in Palo Alto. His mom is the lovingly pushy type of mother that approached Kung Pao founder Lisa Geduldig after her son fell in love with New York comedian Greg Rogell's act that night. “Traditional Jewish mom, telling her I'm a comedian like I've been doing it forever or something,” Habib laughs.
Whether Geduldig took the endorsement with a grain or salt or not is questionable, but the fact remains that she listened to mom's assertion that her 14 year old son was serious about stand up. She put Habib into the lineup of one of her shows before (this week's run will be Habib's second with the series), and provided support for the kid as he traversed the world of high school open mics and comedy clubs around the peninsula. “Lisa has been really good to me,” Habib says. Throughout high school, he says, he was known as the "stand up guy," and didn't know any one else his own age with the same motivation to grip mics and wax observational on stage.
The reasonable tenor of conversation with Habib is kind of weird because I tend to think of stand-up comedians as messed-up individuals (in the best sense of the term). But here we have a young man who puts his double major in film and economics at UC Santa Cruz firmly at the top of his list of priorities. He's got a girlfriend with whom “things are flowing well,” and who doesn't mind that she makes regular appearances in Habib's schtick, generally as part of stories highlighting his inability to set romantic scenes for her. He also gets a laugh out of his brothers, who find Habib's venting about frustrating situations hilarious, and his dear old momma, who drove him all around town in the early days to get him to gigs. “My mom loves it when I make fun of her. I don't know why – well, I think she likes the attention,” he smiles.
Wholesome as a glass of milk. Although, coming from Gunn High School, a competitive prep incubator in Palo Alto, the choice of stand up comedian as a career is a bit off the beaten path. "All my friends want to be doctors and lawyers, go to grad school or whatever." But Habib can't shake the pull of comedy "It's my identity. Plus, I feel like I'm giving something to society."
His general feel-good sunniness is appropriate, perhaps, for a Christmas gathering for people that don't celebrate (or need a break from) Christmas. Kung Pao takes the old cliché of Jews eating at a Chinese restaurant over the holidays and puts a little sass on it: a lineup that this year includes creepy-cute Wendy Liebman, Vietnamese-Jewish Joe Nguyen, Habib, and Geduldig herself. A real nice place to take the fam if you're ready for a break from “closed for the holidays” and canned expectations of world peace and fraternal love.
For Habib's part, he'll be following in the grand standup tradition of playing off the idiosyncrasies of his lovingly wacky life, which for him isn't as easy as it sounds, really. “These things come so naturally to me that I don't always see the funniness in it.” Kung Pao gives him a chance to play up the Jewish side of his routine, not something he usually focuses on. “I will say,” he says. “That it's going to feel good to come back to my people.”
Kung Pao Kosher Comedy
Thurs/23 and Sun/26 dinner 5-6 p.m., comedy 6-7:30 p.m.
Fri/24-Sat/25 dinner 6-7 p.m., comedy 7-8:30 p.m.
All shows $42-62
New Asia Restaurant
772 Pacific, SF