Category Archives: Jewish

Comedian Lynn Ruth Miller in Jakarta on lovely audiences and anti-Semitism

Lynn Ruth went on stage unusually “terrified” in Jakarta

In the last few months, London-based American comic Lynn Ruth Miller (who recently turned 85) has been gigging in Prague, Dublin, Berlin, Paris, Edinburgh, San Francisco and Manila. Coming up are gigs in Shanghai, Beijing, Singapore, Hong Kong, Hanoi, Bangkok and, she says, “possibly somewhere in Cambodia”.

But last weekend, betwixt Manila and Shanghai, she writes…


I was in Jakarta, Indonesia. It was hot and wet. A characteristic I gave up when I hit sixty. I arrived at 11.00am their time and the first thing that struck me was how really lovely the airport was. It was amazing how easy it was to navigate compared to Manila, which was a nightmare.

Indonesians like old ladies and I was swept through Immigration so easily I thought I missed a window and someone would make me turn around and start all over again.  

David, the pastor for youth I met while waiting for the plane, was there at baggage collection to help me with my bag and used his phone to contact Eamonn Sadler, who books comedy at The American Club in Jakarta.  

I had had approximately two hours sleep on the plane and was not at my best as I staggered out of Immigration and tried to find Eamonn. But there he was towering above everyone else in that airport looking down at the top of my head.  

I just about reached his kneecap and I knew he was thinking: ”I hired a comedian, not a pygmy.”  

But he is British so he just nodded politely (at least I think he did. I couldn’t see that far up), asked me if I was all right (at least I think he did; my hearing aids were in my bag), took my case and I toddled after him taking fourteen steps to his one.  

As soon as we walked outside I was smacked in the face with hot, wet air.  

Lynn Ruth performed her show Not Dead Yet!

Even Manila is cool compared to Jakarta. But, indoors, the air conditioning is very efficient and for some reason you don’t feel that blast of cold air when you are inside.

The ride from Jakarta Airport took about two and a half hours. Obviously no-one in the place uses his or her feet and everyone has large, cumbersome, air-conditioned automobiles with which they enjoy trying to get as close to one another without actually denting a fender. Bicycles and motorbikes weave in and out between the cars making everyone hate them.  

The traffic department decided to build brick barriers in the middle of the street so no-one can make a right turn. So you have to do a U-turn at intersections if you can. But the roads are like parking lots and nothing moves.

When we pulled up to the entrance of the Liberta hotel, Eamonn stopped the car and I got out thinking we had arrived at our destination. But this was only for a routine inspection. There was a wave of terrorist attacks in Surabaya (Indonesia’s second largest city) last May and there is heightened security in Jakarta because of that and because they hosted the Asian Games. 

Foreigners are often targets, which is why most expats have a night watchman to guard their property and all public buildings conduct routine inspections on every car that enters their premises.  

By the time I got to my hotel room, I was in a coma of fatigue. I crawled into bed and slept until 7.00pm, when we drove to The American Club.

Since The American Club is part of the American Embassy complex in Jakarta, the security is even more intense there.

The thing I liked about the show, which had about seven acts, was that Eamonn established immediately that comedy is meant to be fun, not politically correct and everyone on the bill deserved to be listened to without interruption.

Even so, I was terrified that I would say something that offended someone or would go on for hours without that laugh all of us in this profession lap up like manna from heaven. Or that the local audience would not get the jokes. But they did. They laughed and they clapped and they all joined in the song that ended my set.

Another country; another cake. Lynn Ruth & Eamonn Sadler

At the end of my performance, Eamonn came on stage with… yes… ANOTHER BIRTHDAY CAKE and flowers. This birthday celebration of mine seems to go on and on and on.  If I keep getting all those cakes, I will probably explode before I am 86 or won’t fit into the coffin.

After the show, Naomi and Eric welcomed me on behalf of Jakarta’s Jewish community.

It turns out that there are about 20 Jewish families in Jakarta in this predominately Muslim country. It is estimated that there are about another 20,000 descendants of Jews who have assimilated and are part of greater Indonesia.

Indonesians must carry an identity card that states their religion and, since Judaism is not one of the seven they recognize, most Jews say they are Christian.  

Those who practice Judaism keep a very low profile. It is not easy to be Jewish in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country and it is even harder this year, as anti-Semitic sentiment has grown since Donald Trump moved the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a holy place to both Jews and Muslims as well as Christians. Every time there is a Palestinian/Israeli conflict, anti-Semitism flares up in Indonesia.

When I realized how dangerous it is to be Jewish in so many countries, I began to understand why the synagogues in Stamford Hill, London, where I now live, are so hidden that I have lived there for two years and only now have begun to discover where they are located. All of them are set far back from the street,  heavily gated and even more heavily guarded.  

In 2013, The Times of Israel reported that Indonesia’s last synagogue – the Beith Shalom synagogue in Surabaya, Java – had been destroyed to its foundations by unknown persons.

I personally have never encountered overt anti-Semitism and so I have never taken it very seriously but, when I met these lovely people in Jakarta who dare not openly practice their faith, I realized how deeply imbedded hatred of the Jews actually is, not just in Indonesia but worldwide.

The next afternoon, Joe and Rheysa took me to Jakarta’s version of an Italian restaurant: Mama Rosy’s.

It turned out that Rheysa once worked for L’Oreal and now she puts on a great deal of make up to look like she has no make up on at all. She explained the procedure for the ‘Natural Look’ that begins with ironing her hair and continues with darkeners and lighteners, blushers and intensifiers to make her look like the natural beauty she is in the first place.  

It occurred to me that I should follow her advice but iron my face instead of my hair. However, I gave up that idea before we got to our coffee. I have not so much as ironed a napkin in sixty years.

After lunch, we drove through the city and I was struck by how crowded the streets are, how dense the concentration of people and how little actual green space. The houses seem to be packed tightly next to one another and the streets are narrow, lined with tiny shops and street food vendors. It was a very different feel from Manila with its very tall streamlined buildings and wide highways. It reminded me a lot of Bangkok.

Jakarta – partly houses packed tightly together – partly not.

That night I had arranged to go to Naomi and Eric’s home for dinner to meet their three children and have dinner. When I got into Eric’s car, I entered a totally different world. He and Naomi have lived in Jakarta for 17 years.

His home is modern and spacious and they have seven servants, as do most of the well-to-do in Jakarta. They have drivers for the children, plus cooks, cleaners and gardeners. They are a part of an ex-pat community that does so well in this part of the world. Both are originally from the United States and after they married lived in Singapore for a while and loved it.

In fact, Naomi still works in Singapore several days a week and both of them do a great deal of travel. That is why they need so much domestic help.  

Yet they are trying to keep up the Jewish traditions we all learned growing up. I too observed those holidays and, of course, loved the special foods: the challah, the gefilte fish, the bagels and the chicken soup. Those things are as much part of being Jewish as observing the Sabbath.

China is next!!!! Not the dinnerware; the country.

But I got a message this morning from Andy Curtain who runs the Kung Fu Comedy Cub in Shanghai that the government had closed down the club.  

In China, there are all kinds of intricacies with licensing and permits that are only occasionally enforced. So it seems I am going to Shanghai with nothing much to do but explore the city…

… CONTINUED HERE

Lynn Ruth with the Jakarta show folk

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Filed under anti-semitism, Indonesia, Jewish, Religion, Travel

Israeli comics: “It’s hard to be pissed-off with someone who makes you laugh.”

In a couple of weeks, on Wednesday 4th October, the annual Comedy International conference and showcase is back in London.

Representing Israel in the showcase are three comics: Yossi Tarablus, Yohay Sponder and Shahar Hason. The night before (Tuesday 3rd October), they are performing a one-off full-length show From Israel With Laughs at the Seven Dials in Covent Garden – “People can see us for an hour and a half rather than just 10 minutes each,” Yossi told me on Skype from Tel Aviv.

Yossi Tarablus

“Will I – a non-Jew – appreciate it?” I asked.

“Sure,” he told me. “Shahar and Yohay have just returned from their Edinburgh Fringe show and from the Asia Comedy Festival in Singapore. It’s not going to be Jewish/Israeli stuff. People who don’t know Israel and who aren’t Jewish can come and still have a blast.

“We will be doing international stuff that works that we have performed all over the world. My show is a lot about family and kids and marriage. A wife is a wife and a child is a child and dating is dating. We are doing adjustments, but we won’t be doing material that we would be testing on the crowd. We respect the crowd. We do our homework.”

“Are the three of you similar in style?” I asked.

“No, we’re very different in style. It’s a great mix of comedians because everyone is at a different stage in life. I am the only one who is married; the other two are single.”

“How,” I asked, “is the comedy scene in Israel?”

Yohay Sponder

“The English-language stand-up scene in Tel Aviv and in Israel has really taken off. In the last five years, when we started this endeavour, we didn’t know how it was going to pan out. We started with an open mic and then expanded to another more professional evening and then another evening in Jerusalem and another evening in Tel Aviv. There was was a time when you could go to see English-language comedy in Israel four times a week. Now you can see it three times a week, which is great.”

“You said,” I pointed out, “when we started this endeavour. What endeavour?”

“We wanted Israel to be a base,” explained Yossi, “a hub for international comedy like there is in Amsterdam and Berlin and, of course, I’m not even talking about Anglo places like London and New York. We want to go out and perform all over the world. And we want international comedians to visit Israel. We have a lot of people who speak English here, a lot of expats from the US and the UK. So we have enough of an audience for weekly shows.”

Shahar Hason

“I presume touring American Jewish comedians already include Israel?” I said.

“The production company that is bringing us to the UK is the one which brought Louis CK and Eddie Izzard and Jim Jefferies to Israel and they’re producing Chris Rock’s upcoming tour in Israel in January. So they bring a lot of A-listers to Israel. And Abi Lieberman brings three comedians with him every six months to do charity shows in Israel. Seinfeld was here a year and a half ago.”

“So how,” I asked, “is Israeli comedy different from New York Jewish comedy?”

“I think,” said Yossi, “that a lot of New York Jewish comics are Woody Allen-esque. Very smart, very sophisticated, very funny and more like Eastern European Jews. They are maybe a little bit more self-deprecating: classic Shtetl Jews.

“Israeli Jews, in their comedy, are a little bit more – as Israelis are – more direct. We appreciate political correctness, but not in comedy. We don’t have a problem laughing at anyone. Laughing at our wars; criticising the other side; criticising ourselves.

“I think being in a country that is constantly in a state of… alarm… makes you less vulnerable to… eh… I mean, what can happen? We are here. We have survived everything. So we don’t care about… I mean, subtleties are fine, but we just want to have people laughing, bursting out laughing, forgetting the news, any tension in the streets or even any economic crisis. People come to comedy clubs to forget. People come to comedy clubs to laugh and have a great hour-and-a-half, to forget all their troubles.

“So we are there to punch you in the stomach and to make you laugh and we want to do that in a way that will make you disconnect from the news. We don’t do a lot of stuff about politics or about current events which might trigger you to something a little bit more traumatic. We don’t want that. We just want you to laugh because your life is pretty-much like ours. Finding a common denominator with the audience is something we look for as much as possible.”

“New York Jewish humour IS self-deprecating,” I said, “whereas I think maybe the superficial image of Israelis is that they are very self-confident.”

“Self confident and less politically correct,” agreed Yossi. “Looking at stuff without any buffers. So – Boom! – in your face. That is the Israeli mentality. Straight talking. If we don’t like this guy, we say we don’t like him. In Israel, we are really afraid to be a hypocrite. If we say we are afraid of Arabs, it’s straight. We are afraid of Arabs because we have a problem with the Arabs. You know? What can you do? It’s not an evening of poetry. It’s an evening of comedy.

“People have asked me about anti-Semitism or anti-Israeli feeling— if we have encountered anything – but, when you do comedy, it’s hard to be pissed-off with someone who makes you laugh. We just want people to have fun.”

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Filed under Comedy, Humor, Humour, Israel, Jewish

My true, vile, anti-Semitic nature is revealed by the Twitter Trollosphere

As far as I am aware, I only have two prejudices, both totally indefensible.

One is because I really have never met a nice white South African. I think it may have been caused by the education system under apartheid trying to instil self-confidence. In my experience, they really have all been a bunch of arrogant bastards. But, of course, that is blind prejudice.

The other genuinely indefensible prejudice I am aware of is that I am unthinkingly prejudiced when it comes to Jews.

If I know I am going to meet someone called Peter Smith, I have no pre-judgments about him.

If I am going to meet someone called David Bernstein (presumably Jewish) then I assume he will be highly intelligent, highly educated, sophisticated and I will probably get on well with him.

That is blind, unthinking prejudice partly fuelled by my childhood and partly by history. And it partly (but not wholly) transfers from Jews as people to Israel as a state.

Vile, anti-Semitic Copstick & Fleming of the Grouchy Club

Vile, anti-Semitic Copstick & Fleming of the Grouchy Club

In my erstwhile impressionable youth, the Israeli Foreign Minister was Aba Eban (who sounded like an English public schoolboy) and the Prime Minister was Golda Meir (who had an American accent). The Palestinians and Arabs on TV always had representatives with harsh-edged ach-ach-ach accents. So the Israelis were “like us” and the Arabs were clearly foreigners “not like us”. Blind, unthinking prejudice.

As for Jews, I went to a grammar school near Gants Hill in Essex/London which had a very high percentage of Jews. I can’t really remember, but I think my year had A, B, C and D streams. Almost all the Jews were in the A stream with only a few stragglers in the B stream.

When there were Jewish holidays, a lot of lessons in the A stream were effectively replaced by general knowledge tests or similar.

I do remember that, in Latin lessons, there used to be three rows in class. But, when there was a Jewish holiday, there was only half a row,

So my impression was that Jews were intelligent.

That is blind, unthinking prejudice, just as bad as the opposite would be.

And that prejudice sort-of transfers to the Arab-Israeli/Palestinian situation. Look, don’t hassle and troll me (as if that would stop them!) but I think, if the IRA had been sitting in fields south of Dublin lobbing shells and missiles over into Liverpool, Blackpool and Macclesfield, the British Government would have done something even more active than sending the SAS into the south of Ireland to sit in fields and occasionally assassinate people.

Which brings us to this week and Kate Copstick, my Grouchy Club co-host and one of the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards judges.

Copstick has never been known to mince her words or necessarily to think too long and hard before speaking. It is a good quality if you want to be a controversial journalist, TV producer and comedy critic.

We disagree on several things, including Palestine. I would say she has a bee in her bonnet about it. She would no doubt say I am an ill-informed idiot.

The offending and offensive anti-Semitic piece

The offending and offensive anti-Semitic piece posted on Facebook

This week, she posted a link on Facebook to an article. I notoriously don’t much look at Facebook or Twitter but, after the link started getting mentioned, I took a look at it and gave up after 3 or 4 paragraphs and seeing the first picture. The article basically was pushing a particularly stupid conspiracy theory in which the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad was behind ISIS. The picture was what I can only describe as a 1936-style Nazi cartoon Jew replacing Jihadi John in a pre-beheading hostage still. I am told that, later on, the conspiracy theory being pushed was that Israeli-backed ISIS was doing its dark deeds to kill off all the Catholics in Europe. Apparently Copstick, in classic style, had posted this WHY ARE ISIS NOT KILLING JEWS? piece without reading the whole thing on the basis it was an interesting concept. (My paraphrase not hers.)

And, indeed, no-one can say it is not an interesting concept!

On Wednesday (or was it yesterday? – it’s been a complicated week), I became slightly aware of this posting because @cliffordslapper was suggesting to Twitter followers: “Maybe try via her podcast co-host, @thejohnfleming”.

This led me to @TracyAnnO’s Tweet: “Maybe we should all ask John if he endorses her views?”

and

@londonette – how do u suggest contacting her? They are employed to represent her.They should at least act as a conduit

@lucyinglis – That’s true. Or through the paper? Or facebook?

@londonette – both have been attempted. Agents are there to deal with this sort of enquiry. End of.

As I was looking after a somewhat active 4-year-old at the time and don’t live on Twitter, the next time I looked, there was a positive flurry of Tweets along the lines of:

@BennettArron – I too have known John a long time. Perhaps he will respond.

@TracyAnnO – Silence as we know in all forms of bullying,are complicity

The latter was much liked and ReTweeted which, I thought, was a bit rich in the circumstances.

The Tweets continued unabated and unseen by me until later as in, for example:

@londonette – Hi John – I really do hope you’ll distance yourself from raging antisemite Kate Copstick

@TracyAnnO – Denying Holocaust isn’t good look is it @theJohnfleming  @Copstick.Even for #clickbait self promo.

@londonette – I’m shocked u didn’t challenge her more at the time – podcast is a truly horrible listen

Where on earth a podcast came into it, I had no idea. But comedian Bennett Arron very sensibly emailed me, saying:

“Hi John, You might have missed the backlash about Kate Copstick on social media. Just wanted your thoughts on what she said on the podcast. Hope all’s well.”

My reply was, by now having belatedly scrawled through seemingly endless Twitter bollocks:

“I’ve seen the Twitter stuff. Podcast I don’t know. She’s going to talk about Twitter on the Grouchy Club Podcast recorded this Friday – possibly not posted until Saturday as I’m busy. As far as I understand it, she didn’t read the whole thing she posted. I only read the start. I’m looking after a 4-year-old, which is all I care about. If anyone has any objection to anything Copstick says or posts, that’s between them and her, not me. If anyone wants to have a go at me about things I haven’t said or thought, they can go fuck themselves.”

Bennett came back with: “Fair enough. Enjoy being with the 4 year old. Great age :)”

I then read, Tweeted by @londonette: “In case you haven’t heard it. Includes antisemitic rant by The Scotsman’s Kate Copstick AUDIO: The Grouchy Club Podcast: Jewish Comedian of the Year, a man with plastic testicles, the best Holocaust joke

At this point I realised they were referring to a Grouchy Club Podcast posted on 6th December 2015 headlined JEWISH HOLOCAUST JOKES (a legendary routine by Jewish comic Lewis Schaffer) and with the description:

Kate Copstick talks to John Fleming about the Jewish Comedian of the Year, a man with plastic testicles, the best Holocaust joke, trans-gender comic Will/Sarah Franken, Lewis Schaffer, The World of Pain, British TV censorship, how BBC TV executive Alan Yentob re-cut controversial comic Jerry Sadowitz, the power of TV advertisers and Noel Gay TV.

At this point, the podcast had been online for over three months, had 258 hits and had had no complaints.

Around 11 hours later, @londonette Tweeted to me: Hi @thejohnfleming have you taken this podcast down? Is it because of this? http://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/155767/anger-comedians-daesh-post

This refers to a Jewish Chronicle piece headed ANGER AT COMEDIAN’S DAESH POST mentioning, in passing: “Ms Copstick, who was a regular guest on BBC comedy show Chucklevision”.

In the only Twitter reply I have so far made to any of all this, assuming @londonette had had the podcast removed, I replied:

“No I have not taken it down. If it HAS been censored, I will repost it on multiple sites. Fuck off.”

Obviously highly sensitive, despite a Twitter profile describing herself as: Freelance Journalist & comms, after an astonishingly long time at BBC News, @londonette replied:

“No need for expletives. You posted a ragingly antisemitic rant by @copstick for public consumption. It’s now gone.”

In fact, when I checked later, it turned out she was wrong. The podcast, should you want to listen, remains online at:

http://thegrouchyclub.podomatic.com/entry/2015-12-06T17_56_46-08_00

Reactions (among many) to my Tweet included:

@stephenpollard: This man posted an appalling antisemitic rant. When asked why it’s now down he says ‘Fuck off’. Nice

@brendancommins: What a tosser!

@BigotedIslamism (an account calling itself Humiliate Hamas): bigoted pig

The account Islamists Exposed @JailNaziScum simply posted my Twitter address: @thejohnfleming

Other responses included:

@TracyAnnO: Horrible  response Mr Flemming. The pressure of collusion getting to you.?

@Kaztastic: heard the one about the bearded anti Semite posing as a comedy blogger? Shame on you Fleming.

@ziegfieldstar: Why is it that these anti Semitic vermin are always physically ugly as well as psychologically.

I then got an email from my blog’s South Coast correspondent saying: “I am getting tweets from this woman, @londonette, hell bent on what I don’t know. I was going to reply telling her that no way is Copstick racist or anti Semitic. It’s OK that they want to challenge and express distaste for something. That is everyone’s right. It’s the stoking of the fire that I object to. Saying ‘Fuck off’ isn’t always the best way forward.”

I replied:

“Nah. Fuck ’em. The origin of their hatred is fair enough. But they’re now just mindless trolls. As bad as the Fascists they hate.”

That remains my view.

No doubt there will be further comments on social media. Welcome to the 21st century.

Copstick will have her say in the weekly Grouchy Club Podcast being recorded tonight and possibly at the increasingly prestigious Grouchy Club Live in London on 12th April.

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Filed under Jewish, Racism

Lewis Schaffer sees Jackie Mason and explains to me what a Jewish comic is

Jackie Mason show flyer

The Jackie Mason flyer for his London shows

Last night, London-based American Jewish comedian Lewis Schaffer and I went to see legendary American Jewish comedian Jackie Mason at the Adelphi Theatre in London – allegedly his last ever London appearances.

Afterwards, we went to Kentish Town for his regular Thursday night gig at the Monkey Business Comedy Club. Lewis Schaffer’s regular Thursday night gig; not Jackie Mason’s.

At the Adelphi Theatre, the flyer had trumpeted: ALL NEW MATERIAL!

Lewis Schaffer had recognised a Ronald Reagan/Iran Contra joke from the 1980s which Jackie Mason had changed into a Sepp Blatter/FIFA joke for this week.

“That was smart of him to do,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“But then,” I said, “people don’t necessarily go to a Jackie Mason show for new jokes.”

“Yes,” said Lewis Schaffer. “It’s like that old story about the dog. It’s not that the dog can talk well. It’s that he can talk at all. The fact Jackie Mason can do 45 minutes, then a break, then 40 minutes and never for a minute did you think: Oh my, he’s forgotten his act… I mean, I’m 58 years old and I have moments of panic when I think: Shit! what the fuck do I say next? He’s 83 – a full 25 years older than I am.”

“I think,” I said, “he thought he was being more outrageous than he was. He apologised for bad-mouthing Starbucks!”

“I don’t think he thought he was outrageous.” said Lewis Schaffer. “I think that’s just part of his act.”

“His style was slightly similar to yours,” I suggested.

“People have said there’s a similarity between us. But it’s the same thing with Woody Allen. We’re all of a type. There’s a certain tone.”

“I saw some old-style Borscht Belt comedian at Soho Theatre,” I said. “I have never really thought of you as a ‘Jewish’ comedian but, when I saw this guy, I thought: That style, that delivery – pure New York Jewish – it’s pure Lewis Schaffer.

“Well, basically, what a Jewish comedian is…” said Lewis Schaffer, “is that the insult comes at the end after you butter somebody up – as opposed to insulting them at the beginning.”

“Do non-Jewish comedians do that?” I asked.

“Ma-a-y-y-b-e,” replied Lewis Schaffer cautiously. “Was that funny?”

“I’m surprised Jackie Mason didn’t mention you,” I joked.

“Maybe he didn’t know I was there.” laughed Lewis Schaffer. “They’ve forgotten about me in America. Not that they ever knew I was there…

“I thought to myself when I was watching Jackie Mason tonight: Maybe I can take his act when he dies. There were a couple of good jokes in there about being older. I’m getting old. I’ve already talked to Robin Ince and Robin Ince says I can have his followers, his fans, though there was some question about the fact they might not like me.”

“Robin Ince,” I said, “is not happy about the PBH fiasco at the Edinburgh Fringe.”

“He’s lovely and loyal to PBH,” said Lewis Schaffer. “I don’t think he fully understands the severity of what’s been going on.”

“You are,” I prompted, “charging £5 for your Fringe show this year…”

A rare sight last night - Lewis Schaffer writing material

A rare sight last night – Lewis Schaffer writing material (on his way to Monkey Business gig)

“I’m charging £5,” agreed Lewis Schaffer.

“Is the show,” I asked, “still called Free Until Famous?

“Yes; Free Until Famous: £5.”

“You’ll get arrested under the Trade Descriptions Act,” I said.

“It says it right there; Free Until Famous: £5… It doesn’t say that the entry is free. It says I am free.”

“How?” I asked. “Free to roam the grasslands like a gazelle?”

“I’m free most weekends,” said Lewis Schaffer. “I’m free to do other gigs.”

“That’s your good luck in not having a PBH Free Fringe contract,” I replied.

“I’m free most days,” continued Lewis Schaffer. “The Edinburgh show is just an extension of my Free Until Famous tour.”

“This is the tour you are not telling anyone about?” I asked.

“No. I’m not telling anyone. 45 dates. It’s the most amazing thing that has ever been done. I am really proud of myself. On the other hand, I’ve been doing bugger all work in the last six months.”

“But,” I said, “you’re doing a 45-gig tour, your weekly radio show and at least two weekly London gigs – a full show at the Leicester Square Theatre every week and weekly stuff at Monkey Business.”

“I feel,” said Lewis Schaffer, “I should be getting more gigs. That’s how you get successful. It’s not just about doing the gigs but getting the gigs. I’m the hardest-working failure in the comedy business. I’m not doing my weekly shows at the Leicester Square Theatre any more. They’re at the Museum of Comedy.  It’s a much better room. It doesn’t have any pillars blocking the view, so now I can see the empty chairs. The Museum of Comedy is perfect for me because I’m getting old, though I’m not as old as Jackie Mason.

“Jackie Mason is charging £51-£86 for tickets. The reason I’m charging £5 at the Edinburgh Fringe, not doing it for free, is I want to weed out the people who are not insane. My target audience is people who are a bit loopy who will like what I do. Do you think that’s true? I don’t know. I just said it right now. Is it true? Is it funny? The reason I’m charging £5 is because I was just fed up with people walking in and wandering out of my free shows.”

Lewis schaffer performing at Monkey business last night

Lewis Schaffer performing at Monkey Business

“They don’t wander out,” I said. “Well… occasionally someone walks out if you tell a joke about Madeleine McCann or the Holocaust. You may get someone walk out because you’ve offended them, but no-one ever wanders out due to tedium.”

“They don’t wander out,” said Lewis Schaffer, “because they’re intimidated. But they don’t feel committed. That’s the trouble with free shows. My audience is not committed.”

“I suspect some of your audiences have been or will be,” I said.

“They just wander in to see what’s going on,” moped Lewis Schaffer. “I want to be respected. I feel like I’m that character in the Woody Allen movie Broadway Danny Rose, where he wants to be respected as a comedian. I want to be respected and I think it’s a huge mistake I have made to charge £5, because I think no-one is going to come and see me.”

Welcome to the world of Lewis Schaffer, comedian, where every silver lining has a cloud.

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81-year-old Lynn Ruth Miller’s love letter to comic Michael Legge, aged 46

Yesterday’s weekly Grouchy Club Podcast featured not just comedy critic Kate Copstick and me but London-based Italian comics Giacinto Palmieri and Luca Cupani. We recorded an audio version – available on Podomatic and iTunes – and a video version posted on YouTube – at Copstick’s Mama Biashara charity shop in London.

Below is a brief extract.


JOHN
Some performer did a love letter to you this week. who was that?

Giacinto’s passionate missive

Giacinto’s passionate missive

COPSTICK
Giacinto. Well, it wasn’t a love letter. It was a wonderful, wonderful piece of writing.

JOHN
She’s going coy.

GIACINTO
I just shared my ideas on why Copstick is so important – to remind us of the need to be passionate about comedy – The fact that comedy and the arts in general should be about passion. So the passion that she’s bringing to her criticism I think is very important. It is very important to remind us of that. And (speaking to Copstick) also the original way of thinking you are bringing to it and that you apply to this one as well – to the way you approach problems in Africa. I really see…

JOHN
This is the Mama Biashara charity?

GIACINTO
Yes.

COPSTICK
It was just… (a) it was absolutely glorious and (b) it was really well written.

GIACINTO
Thanks.

LUCA
Your English is so good.

GIACINTO
Somebody posted a link to that article with the comment: Who is that cunt? And I was really offended by that little, vile word.

JOHN & GIACINTO (together)
Who!

GIACINTO
After six years in comedy! Come on! Hopefully this will get me a bit more known.

COPSTICK
Yeah, absolutely.

GIACINTO
Hopefully, the next time I do something like this, they will say: Oh! I know that cunt!

COPSTICK
Exactly.

LUCA
You could put on your posters That Cunt.

COPSTICK
Giacinto has spawned, really, what is turning into an entire genre because, the author of that brilliant interrogative Who is that cunt? followed it up with – well, it wasn’t really – a satirical take on…

Michael Legge’s parody

Michael Legge’s parody

JOHN
Who is this?

COPSTICK
Michael Legge.

JOHN
A comedian.

COPSTICK
I would have expected something better from him. It was a kind of vicious but not particularly well-written parody of Giacinto’s

GIACINTO
I’m a parodied author now. It’s amazing. I feel like I’ve done a Bruno Ganz.

COPSTICK
Exactly. And now, just before we went on… iPhone or…

JOHN
…or whatever we’re on…

COPSTICK
… I got an email from the inimitable, indomitable Lynn Ruth Miller and she has, in turn, written a letter parodying Michael Legge’s

GIACINTO
We don’t know if Steve Bennett has accepted it yet. I hope he will.

COPSTICK
We hope that Steve…

JOHN
Who is Steve?

COPSTICK
Steve Bennett of Chortle. You’re really just here as a footnote, aren’t you.

JOHN
I am.

COPSTICK
Any time someone mentions anything, it’s Who’s that?


This is the parody letter Lynn Ruth wrote…


A LOVE LETTER TO MICHAEL LEGGE

This is a Tinder message to Michael Legge whom I do not know and who is young enough to be my grandson but it is a Tinder message nonetheless.

I read his message to the lovely Steve Bennett and I must say I wouldn’t mind a bit of a to-do with Steve as well but for the fact that my vagina resembles the Sahara Desert during a drought and Steve still has a bit of juice left in him, or so he thinks……and I make it a policy not to disillusion the young.

Lynn Ruth Miller wants to rub some matzo balls

Lynn Ruth Miller wants to rub some matzo balls

As I read Michael Legge’s overwhelming desire for coitus with an innocent like Steve Bennett, I realized that what he needs is a tryst with a woman of a certain age to teach him how true sexual satisfaction is achieved.

I would like to dunk us both in a chicken soup bath and rub Michael Legge’s matzo balls in my kishke.

He would experience a kosher sensation that would set his holishkes afire because MY horseradish has such a sizzle, you wouldn’t believe. It is after all,  home-made.

I do not expect to feature at his next show or anything like that but I assure you he will lust after my k’nadles and thirst for a bit of my particular, sensual brand of borscht so much he will forget his punch lines. It was my mother’s recipe and reduced my father to a pile of gribenes, every time she flaunted it. I will become an irresistible red-hot chotchke to Michael Legge and he will succumb, And who can blame him?

I will massage him with layer after layer of hot schmaltz to push his boundaries.  I promise he will be overwhelmed with schpilkes that only I can ease with my adorable little latkes even as I butter his bagel.

Ah, Michael! Once you have tasted my sparkling little shalota and savored the intense pleasure of my gedempte fleisch, all those traife peccadillo’s you thought were the real thing will fade into oblivion and you will discover a passion only a kosher maidle with a luscious kugel can provide.

I must admit I have not worked in a morgue but I assure you that I will be in one far before you will and I will make sure there is a soft, velvet little babka to warm the cockles of your heart or your cock whichever you prefer. You can count on me.

I have not compared notes with Kate Copstick and of course I will move aside for her if she prefers to smother you with greibenes or give you a good bublitchke in your nether region. But always remember that it only takes one taste of the American brand of gefilte fish to make a man out of you.

I hope you will forgive the phonetic spelling in this Tinder message to you but I am so overwhelmed with the urge to schtup your brains out that I cannot be bothered to consult a dictionary.

So what do you say, Michael? Are you as temped by my offer as you are by Steve Bennett’s bum? Do you honestly think that your letter to Steve was half as creepy as that lovely idealistic young man’s accolade to Kate Copstick or my delectable offer to you?

There are still some of us who believe in hearts, flowers and a bit of charoset to give life the flavor it deserves. If you do, too, I’m your little girl.

La Chiam to you darling with a bit of a schmear.

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Comic Philip Simon notices a Jewish change in the UK and fears for his knees

David Mitchell - not Philip Simon

David Mitchell, 2009 – not Philip Simon, 2015

A few weeks ago, I was a judge on the Last Minute Comedy Comedian of the Year awards.

The winner was Philip Simon.

“You mentioned in your act at the Awards,” I told him in Borehamwood this week, “that you look a bit like David Mitchell.”

“I don’t get mistaken for him in the street but, when I say it in gigs, there’s enough people who go: Ah! That’s what it is!

Not Philip Simon eating bacon sandwich

Not Philip Simon eating bacon sandwich

“The day after the General Election a few weeks ago, I did an Ed Miliband lookalike job where I had to eat a bacon sandwich. I was brought in late to replace a previous lookalike because they had decided the previous guy looked too Asian to be Ed Miliband.”

“You ate a bacon sandwich?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“You’re Jewish?”

“Yes. I don’t consider myself a ‘Jewish’ comic, but I like that there is that niche I can fit into”

“And you were telling me,” I said, “that there’s been some anti-Semitism creeping into UK audiences.”

“I’m not saying it’s anti-Semitism,” Philip corrected me. “But it used to be I might mention in my set that I am Jewish and, depending where I was in the country, most people would probably think: Oh, that’s interesting. I don’t know much about Jews. Tell me more.

“Now there’s a real sense of – intake of breath – What’s he gonna say? As if, by mentioning you’re Jewish, it means it has to be political. There is now a noticeable atmosphere that is created in rooms round the country that I don’t think was there a year ago.

“I have personal beliefs about the situation – I’ve got family in Israel; we’ve gone to Israel for holidays most of our lives; I believe in a self-governing two-state solution – but I don’t write jokes about it. I don’t want to talk about it on stage because there’s no comedy in it for me.

“Another Jewish comedian I know says he has also noticed a decline in the acceptance of Jewish comedians. And he’s not particularly in-yer-face Jewish or political. I don’t think it has stopped me getting any bookings, but it’s certainly an interesting new dynamic.”

“Well,” I said. “Now you’re an award-winning comedian…”

“Apparently so.”

“So offers have been flooding in?”

“E-mails have been filtering in. Someone did try and introduce me the other night as lastminute.com’s comedian of the year instead of Last Minute Comedy’s.”

“You’re doing your own show at the Edinburgh Fringe but not until next year?”

Philip Simon in Borehamwood

The real Philip Simon in Borehamwood has dating show plans

“Yes. It’s in its very early stages. It will be a show about Jewish dating and Jewish parenthood.”

“Is Jewish dating different from any other dating?”

“Oh yes. Laced with guilt. The premise I have is that we all know each other, so it becomes very complicated. You could never have a dark side to your life, because everyone knows everyone.”

“Surely,” I asked, “South London and North London must be separate?”

“Not now,” said Philip. “With Facebook, mutual friends pop up all over the place. If you go on a blind date and want to find out about the person, you just go onto Facebook and find three or four mutual friends – which could end up good or bad.

“The premise of my show is…Young Jewish boy, out on the dating world, meets someone, they get pregnant … All anecdotal…”

“And autobiographical?” I asked.

“Yeah. We have a baby. But things are going very very well. I mean, it’s not an EastEnders/Jeremy Kyle situation.”

“Is she a full-time mum?”

“She’s a clinical psychologist.”

“And you’re a comedian.”

“Yes. She is actually really good to take to a comedy gig, because she won’t necessarily watch me. She will watch the audience and can tell me at what point they stopped laughing or laughed more and she can read an audience far better than I can.”

“You used to be an actor,” I said, “but now – apart from occasional Ed Milibands – you’re mostly a comic.”

“Yes. I used to do a few TV bits, a couple of bits in sitcoms. I had three lines in My Family.”

“Not a series much admired by comedians,” I said.

“Well,” said Philip, “it was an American writer who came over here and said: This is the format they do in America, so let’s do our show like that.

“What would happen would be they would have a really good original script. Then everyone got their little paws on it – I want that joke – Let’s change that joke – and, by the time, it goes to air, it’s been edited to a different thing. When we did the read-through round the table, it was hilarious. Really strong comedy. But, by the time it was whittled down to the half hour that went out…”

“A bit bland?” I suggested.

“Yeah. But it was a good fun job to do.”

And you were in Peppa Pig on stage,” I prompted.

Not Peppa Pig but Philip Simon again

Not Peppa Pig’s daddy but Philip Simon in Borehamwood

“Yes, that was an amazing job – a year and a half of touring the UK, doing the West End. It was like Avenue Q where the actors were on stage holding the puppets and you could see both. We were onstage talking, singing, acting, dancing with the puppets. I was Daddy Pig, which was the biggest and I’m not officially allowed to say it destroyed my back, but it destroyed my back. I was attached to him with a kind of harness. It was just such a ridiculously heavy puppet. But there was an article in the Jewish Chronicle saying: Philip Simon Brings Home The Bacon.”

“And it may or may not have buggered your back.”

“I now do puppet workshops,” said Philip. “Teaching teachers how to take puppets into the classroom to work with the kids.”

“So what’s next for you?” I asked.

“I’ve signed up to do a stupid bike ride this weekend – London to Amsterdam via Harwich. We finish at Anne Frank’s house and get a tour of the house. We are cycling nearly 150 miles.”

For charity?”

“Yes. The Anne Frank Trust. It should be fun, but I’m a bit worried my knees are going to give way.”

“Have you cycled 150 miles before?”

“No. I’ve done London to Brighton for charity a couple of times in the past and that’s 60 miles. On this Amsterdam ride, the first day we do 80 miles and that will probably destroy my knees. The organisers are calling the route ‘undulating’. On Saturday, I will either be in Amsterdam or in Casualty at some hospital.”

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Comedy promoter Martin Besserman on sexism, Harry Hill and the Holocaust

Harry Hill (left) and Martin Besserman at Monkey Business

Harry Hill (left) and Martin Besserman at Monkey Business

I saw Harry Hill perform at Monkey Business last night.

Martin Besserman’s Monkey Business comedy club has been running in London since 2002. At the moment, it runs Thursdays and Saturdays in Kentish Town with other occasional forays – this week, they staged the special Harry Hill show at Camden Lock. It is not the first time Harry Hill has appeared for Monkey Business.

“You get big names,” I said to Martin Besserman.

“We have a relationship,” he told me. “I have known Harry for many, many years. When I used to work in the market, he was always inquisitive about that. He is a decent, genuine guy. I think performing at Monkey Business takes him back to his roots. I’ve got Bill Oddie coming to Monkey Business on 20th May, because it’s for a charity he believes in – Angels For The Innocent. He’s going to host the show.

“Bill and I come from very different backgrounds, but what we share in common, incredibly enough, is that many many years ago, we had the same girlfriend – not at the same time. It wasn’t a threesome. I was eighteen. I was her next boyfriend after Bill Oddie. Some things stick in your mind.”

“You were telling me,” I said, “that you thought you might have had a reputation for being sexist as a comedy club MC, but that you have reformed yourself.”

“I don’t think it’s a matter of reforming myself,” Martin replied, “because I don’t believe I was ever sexist. People love to gossip, often to disguise issues they are dealing with themselves – and the easiest way of doing that is to criticise other people. It’s very unfair because I think that, over the years, I’ve been very supportive of some of the individuals who are now troublemakers and manipulative gossipers. There’s no credibility whatever in anything they’ve said. I can be clumsy on stage – I admit that – but I have addressed it and I think I am getting better. People are telling me I am getting funnier.”

“What,” I asked, “does ‘clumsy’ mean in this context?”

“Well,” said Martin, “maybe not being aware of the consequences of being spontaneous. But, for some people, there’s a certain charm in that. Obviously, some people will get hurt when you make business decisions that are not in their favour.”

“You mean,” I asked, “if you see their act then don’t book them a second time?”

MartinBesserman2

Martin Besserman – Everybody has their own interpretation

“Yes and they have their own interpretation. At the end of the day, everybody likes to feel that they are special and their contribution to comedy is appreciated. So, if a promoter gives them the elbow or doesn’t give them the welcoming warmth they feel they deserve, then sometimes some of them get bitter. That can happen. But the amount of female acts that perform at my club is greater than at most other clubs. I try to be fair, both with the sexes and also I try to make it multi-cultural.

“There are a lot of good, funny female acts and there are a lot of good, for example, Asian acts. There’s a new-ish act called Hari Sriskantha who was so impressive that I put him on with Harry Hill this week and I’ve also got him on at the Amnesty gig.”

“That,” I said, “is The Secret Policeman’s Ball gig you are programming on 6th June.”

“Yes. I think it’s the first time Durham University have done it. Interestingly, there were some people who criticised me for getting involved with Amnesty. Some Jewish people who said: Mmmm… Amnesty doesn’t like the Jews.

“I am sympathetic to the Palestinian people but, as a Jewish person, I’m equally sympathetic to the Jews. My father was a Holocaust survivor. I don’t think it matters what side of the fence you are on – the objectives are identical. You want peace. You want people to love each other. Both sides have done wrong things and it would be hypocritical to not be aware of that.

“All I know is my father was 14 or 15 years old and he saw his father being led to the gas chambers in 1945. About three weeks ago, I saw a photograph I’d never seen before of my father, just as he came out of the camp with his name: Maurice Besserman. The idea was that newspapers would have photographs in case any of the relatives would recognise any of the people who had survived.”

“What did he do after the War?” I asked.

“He was a very good auctioneer in the market.”

“And you helped him?”

East Street market in London, where Martin worked

East Street market, London, was subsidising comedy for years

“Yeah. I never really knew what my vocation was going to be. I was very confused. We were poor, so I never had an academic education, but I was inquisitive and intelligent and quite wise to the world.”

“And you said Harry Hill was interested in your work at the market?”

“Well, he always used to ask me about it.”

“This was when he was a doctor?”

“No. When he had become a performer. He used to ask me about the market where I worked, in East Street, near Elephant and Castle.”

“He knew you before you went into comedy?”

“No. The market was subsidising comedy up to about six years ago. I was there for years. It was a fantastic business. I made a lot more money out of the market than I did out of comedy, though eventually comedy was subsidising the market because that market – like all the markets in London – got competition from the pound shops and changing cultures and bureaucracy from local councils and went into decline.”

“What were you selling?” I asked.

“Initially jewellery,” said Martin. “Then I incorporated vibrators.”

“Do they have the same buyers?” I asked.

“I was younger then,” said Martin, “I was selling loads of vibrators until the market inspector closed me down. He said: You cannot sell sex tools in a market. I told him: It’s not a sex tool. It’s a massager. He said: No, my wife’s got one of those. Those were his exact words. I don’t think that would happen today.”

“Are you still speaking at Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park?” I asked. He has been speaking there since 1978.

Martin at Speakers’ corner recently.

Martin explains at Speakers’ Corner recently.

“It’s not as good as it used to be,” he replied. “The great characters and the great speakers have been replaced with a lot of religious fanaticism. I used to go there as a poet. I’ve been speaking since I was 16. My message now is Make Love Not War. In itself, it’s not controversial but, then, everybody else is talking about segregation, about how great their religion is. There tells to be a little bit of an aggressive theme there now.”

“What was it like before?” I asked.

“There were a lot of eccentrics. Years ago, even the religious speakers were loveable eccentrics. They put on a show. That, unfortunately, is not the atmosphere now. But it’s still a place where you can get up on a platform and express whatever you think is fundamentally right or wrong with the world and nothing will happen to you. Of course, there have been isolated fights there, but you won’t be arrested for speaking against the monarchy or whatever. That’s a freedom that should never be trivialised. This Sunday, a film crew want to include me in some filming there.”

“What’s it about?”

“I don’t know. It’s definitely about comedy and it’s written by a Danish guy. They sent me a script. I don’t think I have to say too much, but they tell me it’s very important… and they’re going to have the Monkey Business logo in the background…”

On YouTube, there is a 2-minute news report of young Martin Besserman at Speaker’s Corner in 1985.

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