Made You Laugh!
Malkie Knopfler on Life, Laughter, and the Big Stage
By Rayle Rubenstein
There’s nothing like a good laugh, and there are few people who can generate a laugh as well as Malkie Knopfler. Whether she is performing standup comedy or hosting The Malkie Show, her latest and greatest foray into frum women’s entertainment, there is no one quite like Malkie, whose laugh alone can cause a crowd to howl. About a year ago, Malkie released a song entitled Dear Younger Me, an ode to her past which allowed the public a glimpse into the struggles she faced as a young child. The song was eye-opening, but it was classic Malkie: heartfelt, open, and unafraid of the world.
I had the pleasure of meeting Malkie when she presented a cooking demonstration as the Comic Cook at a JCCMP women’s night out, and most recently, at our annual challah bake. On both occasions the audience could barely contain their laughter during her routine but were also mesmerized by her moments of introspection, when she turned serious and shared thoughts about her life as a mother and a Jew.
Humor is a powerful tool. It is a bridge between the darkest and lightest moments of our lives, sometimes blurring the lines between the two. Malkie is in the unique position of harnessing its power to influence thousands of women from her platforms, creating kosher outlets for healthy release while providing food for thought in her signature way – belly-laugh inducing humor balanced with the understanding of what life is really all about.
There’s so much depth behind what you do, and there’s a very sensitive, feeling person behind your funny exterior. Were you always funny?
I was born with this talent of humor; it’s part of me. My grandparents and parents were all very funny and witty people, and humor was always part of our family. I definitely was the class clown. I was not a good student, and humor was a very powerful tool to help me get through school. Being funny helped deflect from my bad schoolwork. Joking about the things that bothered me made them easier to bear. People saw my humor; they didn’t see my struggles. That’s how I got through high school, with acting and humor. Baruch Hashem I had all that, because the realization that I had those talents gave me something to hold onto.
If you came home with a bad grade or didn’t know the answer in class and turned it all into a joke, were your parents and teachers encouraging of that behavior?
I only used humor in that way in high school. For most of elementary school I was a star student. I started slacking off in sixth grade when we had a few teachers who were not so nice. Teachers can have such an impact on a child. One of them really picked on me, and that’s when I started using my humor to hide my hurt. She used to tell me, “Stop being such a clown! You’ll never get anywhere in life like that.” That hurt because being funny was how I coped with the way she was treating me. It was the way I survived. At that time I thought that if I didn’t do well in school I would never do well anywhere. Everyone around me was getting good grades, and I felt like I was the only one struggling. It was really hard. I couldn’t contain the information in my head. I would teach myself and get tutoring, and then I would blink and the information would be gone. It’s still hard for me these days. My memory impacts my life in a bad way, so I still use humor to deflect from it and to empower myself.
I’ve heard it said that a lot of standup comedians are depressed. Is there truth in that?
I think it’s about as true as it is for any other talent. There are many people out there who draw beautifully and when they’re in a hard place they’ll go into their room and draw. There are people who sing from the heart as a means of coping with a hard day or a hard life. Everyone has things going on and nobody has a perfect life, and I feel like whatever talent Hashem gave us is meant to be used to our advantage. Being a funny person doesn’t mean I’m always happy – it just means I’m funny. Happy is a nature. Funny is a talent. People tend to confuse the two. We all have our good days, we have our bad days, and comedians see the dark side, too. You know what they say: You can’t have light if you don’t have dark. A comedian worth their money has seen both sides and chooses to find the light and the humor.
You’re making other people happy, even if you’re covering up whatever it is that is making you unhappy. I think that’s where the line between funny and happy sort of gets blurred.
When I first met you, you were the Comic Cook. Did that start because you wanted to be funny or because you wanted to be a food blogger?
Whoever knows me knows that I’m a great cook, but it’s all intuitive. I can’t tell you how much of each ingredient to put in. I can’t be a professional food blogger, because the food blogger has to tell you to put in a teaspoon of salt and I’ll tell you to just sprinkle and taste it. I realized that if I take my cooking and I take my comedy and I combine them, I could figure out a way to make people happy with my recipes. My original name on Instagram was Food Makes the Mood, because I wanted to share the idea that food is amazing, and it makes us happy. When I started making funny videos on my page in addition to the recipes, I chose a name that included the food and the comedy.
What were you doing before you became the Comic Cook?
I did a lot! I was a makeup artist. A Zumba instructor. I had a business for a year where I made breakfast baskets for people.
I just saw you on Kosher.com wrapping up a basket!
Yeah, so that was a dinner one, but I used to do brunch foods like yogurt and bagels.. I used to sell jewelry and pocketbooks. I was always dabbling in something. At one point I was a private caterer, and I cooked from my very tiny Brooklyn kitchen.
Did you make the decision to pursue comedy or did it just evolve?
Growing up, I was in all the camp plays, and when I got married I was like, okay, there goes my acting. But then I was approached by organization to visit women who were unwell in hospitals or homes. I did that, and I also used to join Leah Forster when she did funny videos for organizations and things like that. One day she called me and said, “I have to cancel a job and they’re very upset at me. I need you to go instead of me.” So, I went, and it was such a disaster. I had no material, I didn’t prepare, and when I came home I told my husband, “I’m never doing this again.” Somehow, he gave me the courage to try again, even though it wasn’t something I was looking to do. Slowly but surely, I did more, and I got used to it.
What’s the process like for writing a routine?
It’s very hard to write comedy, and it’s even harder to write kosher comedy. When someone hires me for an event, I need to know who I’ll be talking to. What kind of crowd are we dealing with? What is the nature of the event? I have my material, but if there’s a specific message they want me to deliver, I’ll focus on that. I used to be so scared to venture out of my regular Boro Park crowd. I knew which words to throw out to get laughs. Over time I realized that all I need to do is change the nuances of my story. So, if I’m in Crown Heights, I’ll mention the specific boots that they all have. In Flatbush, I can talk about Moncler coats. But many truths are universal. Mothers are mothers wherever we are. We’re all going through the same things. If I would have to say one word for my comedy, it would be relatability. For me it’s about coming together as women and laughing at our lives in a way where we can find the joy in it. Sometimes, things are just so crazy that they’re just funny.
From your position, you’re able to say things that other people can’t, because you can cushion your message with a joke. It’s similar to the way we’ll send a text message that we really mean, but we’ll end it with L. O. L. It’s not really funny, but adding that humor is the only way we can say it.
Humor could be used in a place of mussar if it’s done right and not callously. A few years ago, I had a lot of messages on my page about how store owners were being mean. The store owners were telling me how customers were treating the stores, dropping things on the floor and not returning clothes to the rack after trying them on. I realized that there was a miscommunication issue. So I put out a funny song about being a mentch and trying to be nicer to each other. There is a great truth behind this funny song that everyone can relate to and learn from.
Did you ever offend anyone?
I’m sure I have, but never on purpose. I am so scared of hurting people. You never know what people are going to take offense to. It’s very tricky and it’s scary, and every time I go up to perform, I say please Hashem, let people just take it the right way. I don’t want to hurt anyone. For the most part like I feel like I’m doing more good than harm.
Instagram is an interesting platform because it allows just about anybody to become a social commentator. How has your page evolved in that way?
I love to use my platform for social commentary. When I touch on a hot topic, I need to have the time and strength to answer back the thousands of messages that come in, and for the most part I try to answer every person who takes the time to comment on my page. Since I started my show, I’ve gotten so busy that I don’t have the energy for it and often decide to shelve my thoughts until I have more time.
How did you come up with the concept of your show and what was your goal?
For years I had this idea in my head, and I pitched it to producers, but we never got anywhere. What happened was that I got to a point where I felt that I could not contain everything I do on an Instagram page – I needed a larger platform. Today, there is more entertainment available for Jewish women than there was years ago, and I felt that the time was right for a show. It took all of two months from when I first decided to launch it until our first marquee show. My goal is to spread kosher entertainment. I know what goes on out there. There are mothers and teens who are living two different lives. I wanted to create something that is that is clean and funny and entertaining and inspiring at the same time, in a way that mothers and daughters could sit down and watch together. We spend a ton of money on each episode to make sure it’s a high-quality production, and we’re getting incredible feedback.
One of the messages you’re spreading is that there is danger in taking ourselves too seriously. I once heard you say that you stood up in front of a crowd and nobody was laughing.
People who take themselves too seriously think that they’re the normal ones. They’re the ones who go through life with a chip on their shoulder, looking down at everyone else and not allowing themselves to enjoy the differences we humans bring to the table. There is danger in taking ourselves too seriously because we’re not allowing our true selves to emerge and shine. There’s a time for everything, and there is a time to sit and be serious. I’m not promoting being a clown every moment of your life. But women who sit and don’t allow themselves to let loose make me sad and scared because it means that they’re holding in their emotions; they don’t have a release.
I so appreciate what you’re saying. I was raised with a lot of humor, and it was very strongly influenced by my grandfather, who was a Holocaust survivor. During the war he was disguised as a gentile and found himself waiting on a train platform with Nazi soldiers without his identification papers. He started joking with them and he literally saved his life like that. So what you say resonates with me in a strong way. I don’t think most of us will have to save our lives with humor, but it can play such an integral part in helping cope us with life.
For sure. And laughing is so healthy. When you finish laughing, you feel this relief. The biggest joy for me is to hear laughter and to make people laugh. When I see my children laugh from something I said or did, it brings me great joy. Raising children is not easy and more often than not humor is something that works for all of them.
A lot of our parenting comes from a place of fright. We are so scared of every little thing our children do because we know that it can be a big, bad world, there’s so much out there, and if our children say or do something wrong they won’t turn out right. I think we need all need to take a deep breath and realize that children are humans just like us. We need to parent with compassion and humor instead of nervousness or anger. Because if you’re able to smile at a child, you’re showing that you understand them. When you parent from a place of humor and compassion, you end up creating a beautiful relationship.
Humor can go such a long way in life. It helps us deal with challenges and it can smooth relationships. You’re fortunate to have that talent naturally and even luckier that you managed to turn it into a career.
Growing up, I didn’t think about using it to make a living. The fact that I was able to pivot and do just that is huge for me. Not a month goes by when I’m not overwhelmed by that thought. I have tremendous thanks to all who appreciate my comedy, because without them I would not have a stage. And most of all, thank you Hashem!