The doors to comedy clubs are temporarily shut due to the COVID-19 outbreak, but laughs are still coming. Comedian Mordechi Rosenfeld, originally from Woodmere and better known as Modi, doesn’t treat his time quarantined at home as a limitation. For him, it’s an inspiration.
Since 1999 when he left his position as an investment banker at Merrill Lynch to pursue comedy full time, Modi has been constantly booked for shows across the country. Like many performers right now, the stay-at-home order has forced Modi to remain home in New York City for longer than he has in the last 20 years. Without a face-to-face audience, Modi has turned to social media to fuel his creativity and engage with his followers.
“[Quarantine] definitely inspired me to use my comedic muscle in a different way,” he said. “I travel a lot and do shows and before I go on stage, I figure out what’s the joke here, about the city, about the people, about the organization or theater that hired me to do a show. Now, I’m sitting here and I’m coming up with content on my own so it’s a different comedic muscle.”
Modi’s breakout quarantine success came from a new character he created called “Yoely.” In this character, Modi appealed to his niche Jewish following with a comedic take on a Hasidic man reacting to mainstream trends while in quarantine.
“You have to open the synagogues,” said “Yoely” in a video directed at Gov. Andrew Cuomo. “If I have to spend one more day with my wife, I’m gonna rip out my payos.”
On Instagram, the videos include “Yoely” reacting to popular reality shows such as Love is Blind and Too Hot to Handle. One of the character’s most popular videos to date is a review of the quarantine phenomenon Tiger King. The “Yoely” videos have amassed more than 100,000 views combined.
Scattered throughout the “Yoely” videos are what Modi called “A Joke of the Day.” By putting out at least one short new video everyday, he brings some needed relief to his audience.
“I had one doctor tell me he looks forward to the Joke of the Day,” Modi said. “He sits down for a moment, checks, and gets back to it…it’s just a little bit of relief for people who are super in it.”
After interacting with Instagram followers who are on the frontlines of this pandemic, Modi decided to increase his engagement with fans by joining the personalized greeting application Cameo. Before the coronavirus outbreak, Cameo was used occasionally by celebrities to wish fans a happy birthday or happy anniversary for a fee. Now, unforeseen and inconclusive hiatuses have driven performers from all walks of entertainment to the platform.
Fans can request a video from Modi with a personalized message. The app, created in 2016, connects celebrities and fans in an unprecedented way during this unprecedented time.
“I did those cameos for people asking for them for people who truly became fans. For people who, I was a part of their day,” said Modi. “They were in the hospital and part of their day was ‘When’s Modi’s joke coming out?’”
In all of Modi’s online content, he puts emphasis on the comedy not on the news. In his daily life, he tries to listen to the news sparingly so that it doesn’t slip into his work. This, in turn, makes Modi an outlet for the escape that so many need right now.
“I believe comedians’ jobs at this time is not to sit there and pontificate what they think is happening with the virus,” said Modi. “It’s to relieve people from their thoughts.”
No action better captured this sentiment than when Modi hosted the first ever Hatzalah-Thon event to raise money for Hatzalah, an emergency ambulance corps that was hit hard by the pandemic. Hatzalah is made up of volunteers that serve mostly Jewish communities around the world.
Before the outbreak, they typically received a few calls a week whenever someone in the neighborhood got sick. When the phones started ringing off the hook because of the coronavirus, Hatzalah was not prepared.
On May 12, Modi was virtually joined by top Jewish singers and performers to put on an exciting show for audiences and encourage them to donate. The Hatzalah-Thon raised over $15,000,000.
“This was the first time ever that they all joined to do a telethon because they were hit so hard,” said Modi. “It was a worldwide event in the Jewish community and it was absolutely unbelievable.”
Whether it be through livestreamed events or two-minute Instagram videos, Modi is maintaining a sense of community among his followers during a time when it is most needed.
MODI can be found on Instagram @modi_live.