Tag Archives: anti-semitism

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

Lynn Ruth Miller on being back ‘home’ in the US and being disliked as a Jew

Lynn Ruth Miller – an American performer now based in the UK – continues her tales of returning to the US for three weeks of gigs in and around San Francisco after four years away…


That night was going to be the big one. I was going to perform my show This Is Your Future at Beth Lemke’s A Grape in The Fog – her wine bar in Pacifica – and this was the city I lived in and loved for thirty years.  

This Is Your Future makes them laugh in Australia and the UK.

But would I get a giggle from the Americans?  

A Grape in The Fog is Beth’s baby (along with her special child, Daphne, a teeny tiny Chihuahua with a gigantic attitude). 

Pacifica is a bedroom community filled with restaurants and services for people who commute to San Francisco or to Silicon Valley. The level of sophistication one needs to create a successful wine bar for the beer-drinking, hamburger-guzzling local residents does not exist.  

Daphne the Chihuahua with a gigantic attitude

However, Beth is very innovative and staged events like jazz-and-wine, art-and-wine, games-and-wine, even a Yappy Hour so Daphne the Chihuahua could show off her new costumes to other less pampered pets.   

It has taken Beth eight years of persistence and creativity, but she has now established a stable, niche market for her fine and very expensive gourmet wines.

To my delight, A Grape in The Fog was packed with people who knew me back in those halcyon days of walking too many dogs, writing columns for their newspaper and telling dirty jokes.

Every person who came to the show was a gift to me, but, as with all things, every good bit of news brings bad news to counter it. 

I learned that my really young fifty-ish neighbors across the street had both died. Way too young. So had my neighbor to the east who was blind and very old when I lost my house. We all knew that was coming. The man of the house on the west had died too, but his harpy of a wife – a woman who reported me to the police for giving her son champagne for his high school graduation – still spreads her venom. 

There is no justice or logic to those who continue and those who stop, is there?

Just one of Lynn Ruth Miller’s books

One very special guest at A Grape in The Fog was Lennon Smith who helped me formulate my very first one woman show Farewell To The Tooth Fairy – a series of stories from my book Thoughts While Walking The Dog. It was she who began me on the path that led to the Toast Award and the cabarets I do regularly in London and Edinburgh.

So there I was, my past clustered about me, drinking exquisite wine and smiling indulgently as well-meaning, kind people insisted I had not changed one whit even though I am two inches shorter and look like something someone soaked in the bath two hours too long.  

They laughed at British jokes they could not understand because they cared about me.  

‘Dogging’ to them is following someone too closely.

‘Bums’ live in the street.

 But so what?  

I was once theirs and they wanted me to know I was not forgotten.

The next day was my day with Pattie Lockard.

Pattie has been not just a fan but a promoter and a helper for years and years.  

I discovered her doing PR for Menopause the Musical and now she is the founder and spirit behind Nurse Talk – a call-in and political radio series that explores nurses’ rights, health issues and adventures in the nursing profession. It is a beautiful mix of humor and information and I did several short pieces on the show.

Pattie and I met that day at The Cheesecake Factory which serves portions that would make an elephant flinch and then tops it with a slice of cheesecake that would send the slimmest among us to Weight Watchers.  

Then we drove out to her new home in Napa.

Napa is the place that makes all those California wines we buy at Sainsbury’s. It is a charming place filled with vineyards and wineries, Victorian houses and boutique shops.

Pattie’s partner is a working nurse. She is directly involved in the health care system in California and sees first hand the way the insurance companies have profited at the expense of the sick. She is a strong advocate for single pay insurance, as is Pattie. But she is not fond of me.

When I had the misfortune to stay at their home years ago after I broke my heel, Pattie’s partner screamed at me: “You and your Jew ways!” and asked me to leave the house, when I was doing nothing but sitting in her living room with my leg in a cast.  

When she heard I was visiting Pattie this time, she left the house to visit a relative.  

I spent the night in their home and, at ten the next morning, Pattie came in to tell me I had to leave immediately because her partner was on her way home,

I have encountered many people who do not like me and I have always believed that is their right. After all, if everyone loves you, you are really nothing to anybody.  

However, this time I felt a bit miffed because, as far as I know, I have done nothing offensive to this woman to ignite this level of disgust.  

I am beginning to understand the insult people feel when they are discriminated against for something that has nothing to do with who they are… and I also realize nothing I can do will change that attitude.  

We are all different people and that is a good thing.

I believe this was a very good experience for me to learn compassion for others.   

I understand much more completely now how invasive and illogical racism is and how it feels to be hated (such a strong word) by someone you have hardly had a conversation with.

… CONTINUED HERE

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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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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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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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The journey of one scary Israeli lawyer from corset-wearer to stand-up comic

(This piece appeared in the Huffington Post and on Indian site We Speak News)

Daphna Baram – comedian moved from corset to controversy

Yesterday seemed a good day to go see Miss D’s Silver Hammer, the weekly New Act comedy night in London’s Hammersmith, run by Israeli comedian Daphna Baram.

The death toll in Gaza had reached over 100.

Daphna started her career as a human right lawyer and a news editor on a paper in Jerusalem.

“Basically,” she explained to me last night, “I was representing Palestinians accused of security offences at military courts in the West Bank and Gaza. I was – still am – very political. But the only thing I liked about lawyering was performing. There was lots of performing. I had a robe, I was young and I felt like I was an actress.”

“So you were a frustrated comedian?” I asked.

“No,” said Daphna,” it never occurred to me for a minute. I never saw live comedy.”

She moved to the UK ten years ago but even then she was not particularly interested in comedy until something dangerous happened.

“When I was 39,” she told me, “I had a heart attack while I was at the gym, I was struggling with diabetes which was diagnosed when I was 37, I’d lost a lot of weight and was really sporty. I was running five times a week, I was looking like Lara Croft. I got to the hospital in a good shape, except for nearly dying.”

“So that was your Road to Damascus?” I said, choosing an unfortunate phrase.

“It was,” she agreed. “While the thing was happening, I was quite jolly and everybody in the ambulance was laughing and the doctors were laughing and I was cracking jokes all the time.

“Once I was in the ambulance and they said I was not going to die, I believed them. So I thought How can I get drugs here? This is an ambulance. They asked me Are you in pain? and I wasn’t but I said Yes I am and they gave me the morphine and the pre-med and everything. By the time I got to hospital, I was really happy and there was a really good-looking doctor waiting at the door.

“So I was in quite a good mood and they put a stent in my heart, but the next morning I woke up and started thinking Fuck me, I’m 39. I just had a heart attack. My life is over… I’m never going to have sex again, because people don’t want to have sex with women who have had heart attacks. What do you think when the woman starts twitching and breathing heavily and stiffening and her eyes widen? Do you keep doing what you’re doing or do you call an ambulance?

“At that time, both my best friends were getting married. One of them a week before the heart attack and one of them a month after. I did their wedding speeches, which went down really well; people were laughing. At the second wedding, there was one guest called Chris Morris who I’d never heard of because I knew nothing about comedy.

“He said to my friend Kit, the groom: Does she have an agent? And Kit said: Yes, I’m her personal manager. Chris Morris asked Is she doing it for a living? and Kit said No, but I think she might and then he was on my case.

“I’d just had a heart attack, I was turning 40, I felt I needed to do something creative, something new, perhaps write a book. But I’d already written a book in 2004 about the Guardian newspaper’s coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over the last hundred-and-something years.”

Daphna’s book on Israel: Disenchantment

The book is still available and Daphna writes occasionally for the Guardian on Israeli-Palestinian affairs.

“What’s happened in Israel this last week,” I suggested, “must be a joy for a comedian.”

“Normally,” she explained to me, “I open on Israel stuff about how aggressive we are and how I can kill and it kinda works with my persona which is quite authoritative. But the war broke the night I was in Glasgow and I did about ten minutes of just taking the piss, all the sex stuff, the fun stuff, the growing old stuff and being a reluctant cougar. Then I started talking about Israel and told a few jokes about that and people were not feeling uncomfortable about it.

“So I said Hold on, I want to stop for a minute because I have a lot of these self-deprecating jokes about Israel, but I’m feeling terrible telling them today, because my country has attacked Gaza, which is basically a massive prison surrounded by a wall. They are bombing them with F-16s jets and this will only stop if there is international intervention. The place is the size of Glasgow but without the drugs. I thought Obama was chosen to be the American President but, reading a statement that came out of the White House today, I realised it was really Mitt Romney. People were clapping – some of them were standing up and clapping. Then I went on to talk about pervy Englishmen and it went down really well.

“When that happens, you come out and you feel exhilarated. People laughed on the one hand, but also listened to what I had to say. Comedians want to be seen and heard. Maybe all of us were children who were not heard enough. Being in comedy is a little like being in prison or an asylum. Nobody is here for no good reason. Nobody stumbles into it by mistake. There’s something driving people to do it.

“I know one main thing which took me from lawyering to journalism to comedy was I need to be heard. I have opinions. I have thoughts. I need people to hear them. And I felt very ‘heard’ last week in Glasgow.”

“But you’re unlikely,” I said, “to do so well with Jewish audiences at the moment.”

“Well,” said Daphna, “there’s a website called the SHIT List. SHIT is an acronym for Self-Hating Israel-Threatening Jews. I think it came out around 2003. I’m on that list; my dad’s on that list; my uncle’s on that list.

“But Jews are not a homegenic crowd. Of course a vociferous majority both here and in America are very pro-Israel… Israel is like the phallic symbol of the Jewish nation. We’re the cool ones! We’re aggressive! We’re in your face! We don’t take shit from anybody! At the same time, we’re also embarrassing and rude. We’re a bit brutish. I think there is a dichotomy about the way British Jews feel about Israelis. Right wing Israelis who come here and speak can seem crass and sometimes people feel that they sound racist. There’s a feeling they don’t word it right.

Occasional Guardian articles…

“Leftie Jews come here and are quite critical of the Israeli government and some liberal Jews think You invoke anti-Semitism and you’re not even aware of it because you’re not even aware of anti-Semitism. And it’s true. We grow up in Israel where we kick ass and we’re the majority.

“There’s a lot of self-righteousness in Israel – a sense that we are right. But we have taken another people’s country and we don’t understand how come they don’t like it. That is probably my best joke ever, because it encapsulates the way I see the Israeli-Palestinian problem. First the taking over and then the self-righteousness, the not understanding how come the world cannot see we are the victims.

“But they’re not going to let us be the victims forever. Not when you see on television pictures of victims being dragged from the wreckage in Gaza and taken to shabby hospitals in a place that is basically a prison.”

“So,” I persisted, “maybe Jews won’t like your act at the moment?”

“When British Jews complain to me about something I’ve said in my act,” Daphna told me, “they don’t say it’s not true. They say Why do you say that? Why do you bring the dirty washing outside? When an Israeli comes out and talks like I do – because Israelis are the über-Jews and we are the ones who are there and have been though the wars – they find it quite difficult to argue with us.”

“Until last year,” I said, “you wrote serious articles under your own name of Daphna Baram, but performed comedy as Miss D.”

“I was worried that people who read me in the Guardian would… Well, no heckler that I’ve ever encountered has been as vicious as people who write Talkbacks to the Guardian after your article has been published.

“Hecklers sit in an audience. Other audience members can see them. When you write a Talkback to the Guardian, no-one can see you. So people are vicious.

“This is why I started gigging under the name Miss D – because I was scared. I thought These people are so vicious they will come follow me to gigs and, because my on-stage persona was so new and vulnerable… Look, it’s scary coming on-stage and telling jokes when you think you have a lot of enemies you don’t even know. Even now, after I ‘came out’ under my own name in January last year at preview gigs for my Edinburgh Fringe show Frenemies

“Look, when I started doing comedy, I was worried about these things…

“In my first year, I was not talking about Israel at all. I was doing some sort of reluctant dominatrix routine partly because the material was not coming. I was taking all the aggressive traits of my persona. I was dressed like a sexual predator. I wore corsets and the premise of my set was I’m scary and I don’t know why people think I’m scary. It’s still a theme in my comedy, but I think I’ve learned to put it in a less crass way. My premise now is that I’m not hiding behind my scariness.

“There’s something interesting about wearing corsets. You would think when you want to hide you cover yourself. But sometimes just exposing yourself is also a kind of cover. Being sexy on stage is a kind of cover. You’re a character. You’re somebody else. I don’t think I’m there yet but, more and more, I envy the comedians who stand on stage and they are who they are and just chat.

“When people talk to new stand-up comedians, they say: Oh, just go on and be yourself. As if that’s easy. It’s not. The whole journey of becoming a good comedian is managing to be yourself on stage as you are when you are funny in real life. I think it can take years.”

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Oy! Oy! – Anti-Semitism, a murderous Israeli cross-border raid and a Jewish joke from the Prime Minister

This week, I was talking to Israeli-born, London-based freelance journalist Daphna Baram, who wrote a fascinating book Disenchantment: The Guardian and Israel about that British newspaper’s relations with and perception of Israel. (The 2004 hardback is currently on sale at amazon.co.uk for an eye-popping £94.98p)

The only prejudice I know I have is that I am unthinkingly pro-Jewish, largely because I went to a grammar school with a very high percentage of Jewish pupils. That prejudice in favour of Jews used to transfer equally to Israel.

Hey! – remember why Israel occupies the West Bank, the Golan Heights etc – it’s because, in 1967, the countries surrounding it were foolish enough to threaten to attack Israel (not for the first time) in an attempt to wipe it off the face of the map… They lost their gamble… and, in six days – spookily the same amount of time in which the Jewish God allegedly created the Universe – Israel created more defensible borders. Like him, they rested on the seventh day.

Egypt, Jordan and Syria miscalculated so badly that Israel’s defensive attack originally pushed the Egyptian Army back to the Suez Canal and threatened Cairo, while Jordan’s West Bank territories were over-run and Syria lost the Golan Heights. But, when I hear the words “Golan Heights”, I don’t think “wantonly occupied by Israel”, my memory is of the Syrian Army pouring heavy artillery shells down onto the farmland of northern Israel from the heights before the Six Day War started.

My automatic pro-Israeli thinking, of course, has lessened. Bulldozing the houses of terrorists’ families and taking ten eyes for an eye if you are attacked smacks of the Nazis in their occupied territories in the 1940s and makes me think Have the Israeli government never read their own history books? It was counter-productive for the Germans. It is counterproductive for the Israelis. When they bulldoze a house, does the name Lidice never spring into their minds?

They only have to look at a map. The town of Lidice is still there on modern day maps.

I am always a simplistic thinker.

If you constantly fire rockets into Israel, then Israel is going to react, possibly – and not unreasonably – by sending troops into the country from which it is being attacked. If the IRA had been repeatedly/constantly shelling Liverpool from positions just outside Dublin, the British government would have done more than send a few SAS men into the Republic of Ireland to assassinate people (as they did without the provocation of suffering rocket-attacks from foreign soil).

But I mentioned to Daphna Baram that I thought Israel’s image in the UK had mainly gone downhill since my erstwhile youth largely because of accents.

When I was a kid, the Israelis were automatically the good guys because they sounded like us and wore Western clothes, whereas the Palestinians/Arabs sounded like foreigners and wore costumes straight out of Lawrence of Arabia.

In my erstwhile youth, Prime Minister Golda Meir had an American accent and looked like a grandmother from Baltimore. Israel’s long-time Foreign Minister Abba Eban spoke like he had been educated at a rather stuffy English public school and dressed like the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Yasser Arafat, on the other hand, looked and sounded like a rather dodgy bloke up an alleyway in Casablanca or some similar black & white movie, selling dirty postcards to tourists.

I mean… Golda Meir – she was a Jew, the Israeli Prime Minister – and she titled her autobiography My Life… you have to admire her for having a sense of humour. Yasser Arafat did not look like he sat at home and watched Monty Python’s Flying Circus on TV. Golda Meir might have watched The Benny Hill Show.

It was around the time of Prime Minister Menachem Begin and his successor Yitzhak Shamir that things started to go downhill for Israel in PR terms. This was, I think, mainly because Begin and Shamir both had a guttural accent when speaking English though – yes, OK – there was also the minor matter of them both being former anti-British terrorists.

Begin had been leader of Irgun and Shamir was a former member of both Irgun and The Stern Gang.

But that has never been an insurmountable problem for the British – from Jomo Kenyatta in Kenya to Michael Collins, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness in Ireland, we have always accepted terrorists as the political leaders of ‘our’ former countries.

The trouble with Menahem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir was that they sounded as foreign and alien as their Palestinian rivals – and their suits were not as smart as Abba Eban’s had been.

Daphna did not really agree with me about accents changing Britain’s attitude to Israel, but she did tell me a story about Abba Eban.

In the late 1950s, when Abba Eban was Israel’s representative at the United Nations, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion ordered an especially murderous raid across the border.

Abba Eban stood up at the UN General Assembly and made a particularly brilliant speech defending the raid. He than phoned David Ben-Gurion to express his utter outrage at what he considered had been an appalling and reprehensible attack.

Ben-Gurion listened to Abba Eban, then said:

“Well, I was having second thoughts about the raid myself but, after I heard your outstanding speech, I  was convinced that I did the right thing”.

A story more Oy! Oy! than Oy Vey! perhaps.

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