Moving away from America to make it in America
A comedienne explains how moving from New York to Israel got her career rolling.
A few weeks ago, Sarah Markowitz was learning that using a pet to find dates is complicated, especially when you're trying to film a video at the same time. Especially when you're living in a new country full of cats.
Markowitz is an American actress and comedienne living in Israel, and she was trying to film a video about picking up guys with her friend's dog (which is supposed to be a pretty effective strategy). The problem is the dog didn't know that. As she set off down the street with her friend's giant, golden mutt, the pet spotted a cat. When he pulled her across the sidewalk to chase it, Markowitz looked him in the eye.
"Kevin," she said, "We've got a long day ahead of us."
"Let's go," said her friend holding the camera, the only member of her film crew.
“I don’t know if we should do this," said Markowitz. "Maybe we shouldn’t do this.”
“You're dressed, you have makeup on your face, you have a dog waiting, we’re going.”
Markowitz is a prime example of a YouTube-style filmmaker on the rise. She has no budget and has to borrow film equipment (and pets) from friends to make videos. But her shorts regularly receive tens of thousands of views; almost 100,000 people watched her recent one about trying to pick up a guy at the gym.
Markowitz hails from New York, and she was busy doing improv in 2016 when she decided to take a trip to Israel. She hasn't left since. But she's still trying to make it in the American entertainment industry, and she told us that living in Israel is actually helping her do so.
For instance, Markowitz said that Israeli artists tend to be more supportive of one another than New York artists, who can be a bit cutthroat. Perhaps that's why her comedy career kicked off when an Israeli artist pretty much forced her on stage.
When Markowitz first moved to Israel, she missed performing, so she went to a standup show to check out the scene. She arrived at an old-fashioned bar in Tel Aviv. Afterwards, her friend literally pushed her to talk to the host.
“I never did standup before in my life," she told him.
“Then you’re coming next week," he replied.
“... No I’m not.”
“You have a week ... let’s go!”
For the next week, Markowitz frantically spent her time writing jokes and gathering friends to come to the show. She'd repeatedly stare at a blank piece of paper, thinking "I have funny thoughts. Come out like a joke!”
The day of the show, Markowitz was so nervous that she developed a stomach ache, one that would come back every time she tried to perform. When you're acting, there's someone to feed you lines. When you're improvising, you have a team supporting you. But in standup, you're alone.
“You go on that stage and it’s just you," Markowitz said. "You stand up there, no one laughs, and you can’t leave."
Her set went alright; she didn't bring down the house, but she got a few laughs, and the host asked her to come back the next week. She kept performing. Eventually, the host quit, and Markowitz was asked to become the new host. That meant she was responsible for gathering comedians, making sure people were on time and getting a microphone. Sometimes, shows were packed out the door. Other times, the bar was almost empty, and she'd have to stand on the street and convince people to come inside.
“I learned more doing that than I ever did in acting class,” she told us.
Eventually her standup turned into filmmaking. She started making funny video shorts about dating that really went viral. Her videos look professional, which is why it's so surprising that they're pretty barebones — the cast and crew usually just consists of Markowitz and a friend holding the camera. And the people she surprises on the street, of course.
Markowitz said that Israelis are happy to be involved in whatever strange man-on-the-street thing she's up to, whether it's asking people out or dancing outside with strangers.
Markowitz's comedy tends to center around dating, so her material often comes from real life. For instance, on one fateful Sunday, she set up three dates: one for coffee, one at a museum and one for dinner. She liked her second date, a musician boasting a cool beard, and went to bed feeling pretty good about herself. Then she woke up to a text from the musician: it was a selfie of him with date #3.
"All I could say was, 'How?'" she remembered. The two were, apparently, friends.
"The moral of the story is: don't go on three dates the same day," she said.
The experience, however, did not stop her from trying to pick up a whole bunch of guys with that dog. After the pet finished chasing the cat, she directed him to the plethora of men walking around the city.
"Find me a boyfriend," she told the dog. "Find me a boyfriend. No, that’s poop."
She approached strangers on the street, trying to start up a relationship, "101 Dalmatians" style.
"Do you want to date my dog?" she asked a man. "I mean, do you want to date me? Dammit!"
She didn't get a boyfriend out of the afternoon, but 89,000 people watched her try. So perhaps it's not so surprising that Markowitz hopes her work in Israel will propel her into the American entertainment industry.
Back in the day, making high quality videos would have taken a lot of money. Distributing anything across the world would have been difficult. But today, motivated people can make videos inexpensively and send them around the planet for free, which has started to transform the film business from an exclusive club to a free-for-all. You don't have to be in Hollywood to make it in Hollywood. You don't even have to be in America.
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