Tag Archives: Israel

Tony Blair’s Muslim sister-in-law is performing at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Muslim sister-in-law is performing at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Lauren Booth, Tony Blair’s sister-in-law, was a very vocal opponent of the 2003 Iraq War and a supporter of the Stop The War Coalition.

She is performing Accidentally Muslim at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe.

She trained as an actress, became a journalist and converted to Islam in 2010.

Her father was actor Tony Boothwho became famous as the Left Wing son-in-law of Alf Garnett in BBC TV’s sitcom Till Death Us Do Part.

“Your mother’s maiden name was Pamela Cohen”

Accidentally Muslim is a dramatisation of her 2016 memoir Finding Peace in the Holy Land.


JOHN: Do you still exchange Christmas cards with Tony Blair?

LAUREN: Yes.

JOHN: So you are persona grata…

LAUREN: Ehhh… Well, I think there’s a lot of love in the family.

JOHN: Your mother was Susie Riley née Pamela Cohen. That’s a Jewish name.

LAUREN: Yeah. Her father, my grandfather, was Jewish.

JOHN: Was her mother Jewish?

LAUREN: No.

JOHN: So she’s technically not Jewish.

LAUREN: That’s right.

JOHN: There’s a lot of stuff at the moment about anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. Can someone be anti-Israel without being anti-Jewish?

LAUREN: I’m not going to go into that, because that’s not in my show.

JOHN: So…?

LAUREN: It’s not the same at all.

JOHN: Why not?

Lauren in Iran with an anti-Zionist Rabbi and Christian priest

LAUREN: Because you can be against a political regime without wishing harm on people who follow a faith. There are Zionists who are not Jewish and it’s the political ideas that people protest against.

JOHN: Why are you an ‘accidental’ Muslim?

LAUREN: Because things kept happening to me that pushed me in one direction until, one day, I pretty much woke up and went: Whaaaaat?? – Oh! OK! Right!

Some people will go and read and study for six years. Other people will just accept a faith. But I was resisting. I was like: Nice food, but no thankyou. And… it just happened.

JOHN: You saw a report on TV in 2000 of a boy who got shot in the Gaza Strip and then you accidentally found yourself in his village.

LAUREN: Yes.

JOHN: Are you Sunni or Shiite?

LAUREN: I just say I am Muslim.

JOHN: Can you be?

LAUREN: You can, because everything is between our hearts and the Creator. I just think it’s really disingenuous and unhelpful to get involved in sectarianism.

JOHN: Don’t people say: “You have to be with us or them”?

LAUREN: Yes, unfortunately that happens and that’s why I don’t go into it.

JOHN: How do you spell the faith? Moslem or Muslim?

LAUREN: Muslim. Like the word mosque. You know the origin? Apparently the colonial troops in India described the people flocking to their religious building as mosquitos – that eeeee sound. There were thousands of them and you didn’t want them, so that’s why it’s ‘mosque’. Most Muslims refer to it as ‘masjid’.

Young Sarah Jane later Lauren Booth

JOHN: You were born Sarah Jane Booth. So where did ‘Lauren’ come from?

LAUREN: It’s an Equity name. There was already an actress called Sarah Jane Booth, my height, brown hair, brown eyes, born the same year.

JOHN: That is rather creepy. You have a doppelgänger!

(LAUREN HUMS THE THEME TO THE TWILIGHT ZONE)

LAUREN: I just plucked ‘Lauren’ out of the air.

JOHN: Accidentally Muslim is billed as a play in the Theatre section of the Edinburgh Fringe Programme. Is it a play or a monologue?

LAUREN: A monologue.

JOHN: So is it a monologue about how we should all become Muslims?

LAUREN: Absolutely not.

JOHN: But it’s going to be a terribly serious talk about death, destruction and…

LAUREN: Well, I’ve just come out of rehearsals for it and we’ve been roaring with laughter for 30 minutes. It has some real light and shade in it.

JOHN: You have a director for the show. You started as an actress, then became a journalist. You can write and you can act. Why do you need a director?

LAUREN: It would have been such an act of arrogance to have come back after 26 years of not being on the stage as an actor and say: “I can do this on my own!”… It would have been a catastrophe. I wanted to dramatise the story and make it ‘live’. It has a soundscape and visuals and lighting cues and I play twelve characters. So it’s very much not a lecture.

JOHN: So it’s not a monologue: it IS more of a play.

LAUREN: Is it a one woman dramatisation? Does that work? One of the characters I play is Billy Connolly.

One of the 12 characters Lauren will play (Photograph by Eva Rinaldi)

JOHN: If you have to cover your head for religious reasons and you don’t have a beard, how are you going to do that?

LAUREN: You’ll have to see the play to find out.

JOHN: Good PR!… So the play is a coming-together of your skills as an actress, journalist, world traveller…?

LAUREN: You know, going through these rehearsals, it’s a story of somebody who’s by chance at certain pivotal moments in history and has certain realisations along the way. It covers 40 years, 12 characters, 2 faiths and 2 or 3 continents.

JOHN: Which continent is the Middle East in?

LAUREN: It’s a totally Orientalist term. The Orientalists said Britain is the middle of the world and everything else (beyond the English Channel) is East, so it is the Middle of the East.

JOHN: It’s certainly not Africa; it’s certainly not Europe; it’s not Asia.

LAUREN: What about calling it Middle Earth?

JOHN: We would have to worry about the Nazgûl coming in. Talking of which, among others, you wrote for the New Statesman AND for the Mail on Sunday. There’s a – eh – mixture of politics in there.

LAUREN: Well, my politics was always the same. I like to tell myself that the Right Wing paid for my Left Wing pretensions. But I don’t know if ethically, looking back, that really works. Can you take quite so much money off Associated Newspapers and still be Left Wing? That’s up for debate. But I wrote what I wanted. They did give me free rein and I did get some good stories that I wanted in because I used to stand-in for Suzanne Moore: hardly a bastion of the Right.

I described doing that kind of job as being an aquifer for hatred for Middle England.

JOHN: …and at the New Statesman? The type of stuff you were writing was…?

LAUREN: I would call myself  “a chronicler of London society” at that time.

The Daily Mail’s photo of Lauren with her dad Tony Booth

JOHN: Someone said, when you converted, you had moved “from hedonism to hajj”. Your dad, actor Tony Booth, was very Bohemian.

LAUREN: Well, we are all products of our childhood and my dad taught me an awful lot. He taught me how to roll a spliff that would look like a cigarette.

JOHN: Remembered fondly.

LAUREN: Absolutely.

JOHN: You’ve worked for Press TV AND Al Jazeera. Press TV? That’s pure propaganda…

LAUREN: It was the only place to get out some really good information about Palestine.

JOHN: You spend a lot of time in the Middle East?

LAUREN: I haven’t been for five years. I’m hoping to go back to Qatar. I can’t really get into Gaza at the moment. The last time I went through Israel was 2009. The problem with getting into Gaza is you can’t get in through Egypt. You have to go in through Israel.

JOHN: Do you personally, specifically have problems getting into Israel?

LAUREN: I haven’t so far.

JOHN: You were on I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here in 2006. Why did you do that?

LAUREN: Because it was adventure. The only thing that scared me was bungee jumping and I did three… Three!

JOHN: The viewers voted that you had to?

LAUREN: Yeah.

JOHN: You are always going to be tarred with Tony Blair… but the good side is you will always get coverage out of it.

LAUREN: It’s not about coverage. I have no issue with it having been a door-opener. At certain times, you have to say: That door was absolutely opened because of it. What you do when you get inside, though, is what defines you. So I am very grateful for that and I hope I’ve used it for good and made some points that needed to be made and told stories for people who don’t normally get their stories told.

JOHN: I was going to say it’s a cross you have to bear. But I suppose it’s a crescent you have to bear.

LAUREN: Can I have that for the play?

JOHN: It’s yours.

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Lynn Ruth in Singapore, Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Bangkok… and on Israel

Lynn Ruth now has a taste for the Far East

Lynn Ruth Miller, the irrepressible 85-year-old American comic and occasional burlesque stripper based in London, has been off on her professional travels again.

Here is an edited version of her whistle-stop diary of the trip.


SINGAPORE

This is the first time I have flown directly to Singapore from London. It is a very long flight: about 17 hours. I could have paid twice as much and gotten there two hours earlier but I am Jewish.

I do not waste money.

I have been thinking about why comedians travel as far as we all do to stand in front of a lot of strangers for as little as ten minutes or as long as an hour talking about ourselves. For me, living alone as I do, it is worth the travel and the personal inconvenience to have those few moments when I am in the spotlight making a lot of people love me – because, in that moment, they do.

But it is more than that.  

We are, after all, social animals and interaction feeds our souls. As I get older (and I sure hope I keep doing it) I realize that the impetus to keep doing this is far more than those moments on stage. It is that amazing connection with different people from different backgrounds and the jolt of surprise when I realize how similar our values are and how alike our mutual vision of what makes the good life.

This is the third time I have been to Singapore.

This time, Naomi from Jakarta alerted the Jewish population of Singapore (which is far larger than I thought) to come to the show, so the place was packed. When I do comedy here, the audiences want to laugh and want to support us. They make us all feel like stars.

After the shows in Singapore, we all stay to have a drink and get to know one another as people. This is in contrast to the London experience, where the headliner usually comes in just before it is time to do his set and the rest of the comedians leave the show when they are done performing.  

Lynn Ruth has found she has many fans in the Far East

Here in Singapore, you realize you are all working together to create a good experience for the audience and it reduces that sense of competition that I always get in London. No one person is better than another because each performance presents a unique viewpoint.

And that is what makes stand up comedy so satisfying. The audience gets a glimpse of another perspective on the life we are all trying to live.

HO CHI MINH CITY (formerly Saigon)

Compared to Singapore, which is spacious. modern and richly beautiful, the streets in Ho Chi Minh City are narrow and the buildings retain the flavor of  the pre-war city. It has preserved some of its original character and yet it is filled with bright lights and glittering signs that give it a Las Vegas feel.

I featured for Jojo Smith who is an established comedian who has been doing this kind of thing for about 25 years or more. It is always an honor for me to be on the bill with women who have broken down barriers I still have yet to smash.  

We both did very well but the interesting thing was that I thought the evening was a huge success and I do not think Jojo agreed. The audience was smaller than she expected and the ambience of the room was not what she had hoped. I have decided that my expectations must be very low because I thought it was a gem of an evening.

Jojo and I were on the same plane to Hanoi the next morning.

HANOI

When we got here, Dan Dockery picked us up and, like the reliable rock that he is, he got us back to the very lavish Intercontinental Hotel that sponsors his events.

Jojo was not feeling well so she went up to her room which was the size of a three storey mansion and I toddled over to one of the several cafes each one fit to serve tea to Queen Elizabeth.  

When I returned to my room – so spacious I am amazed I managed to find the bed without a divining rod – I napped until show time. Poor Jojo had digestive problems and, like the understudies in West End shows, she gave me my big moment. She stayed in bed and I headlined.  

“Every joke worked. I was walking on air when I left the stage”

I did fifty minutes of comedy and every joke worked. I was walking on air when I left the stage then, after I drank the bottle of wine one of the audience members bought for me, I was floating on a cloud so high my feet didn’t touch the ground.

I think that is what keeps me in this business. The thrill of a successful gig has not worn off for me. It is never just another night.  

I vaguely remember the night I lost my virginity on plastic sheets in a grim motel in Indiana and I have to say that supposedly cosmic moment did not compare to standing on stage in Hanoi talking dirty to a bunch of expats in a hot little room overlooking the river.

It was my kind of magic.

The next morning, Dan’s driver took me to the airport and he was telling me how life has changed since the war. He said the entire place has been rebuilt and now there are more motor bikes than there are people on the roads and also a huge gap between rich and poor. Hanoi though – even more than Ho Chi Minh City – has retained its rustic flavor while always sparkling with colorful lights.

In Bangkok, “Everyone loves funny old ladies.”

BANGKOK

Chris Wegoda runs Comedy Club Bangkok, the most successful English-speaking comedy club in Bangkok. I headlined there.   

Chris, who is unbelievably reliable, sent a man named Sheldon – a swimmer, former surfer and LA guy – to pick me up and off we went to the show. 

The show was fast-paced and the audience anxious to laugh. I did my set and I did well.

Then we all went down to the bar to drink and Liam and Kordelia, whom I had met at the airport, said I must come to Mojacar Playa to do a show. I said I would.

They said: “Everyone there loves funny old ladies.”

I said: “I hope so.”

The next morning, my darling buddy Jonathan Samson sent a Thai guy to fetch me to his club in another neighborhood of the city. Jonathan does comedy in a youth hostel and keeps the prices low, which I support.

After our show that night, Jonathan bought a pan, a hot plate and a lot of ingredients for me to make my signature dish: blintzes (Jewish crepes.) Six members of the audience stayed after to help with the mixing, the beating and the frying and, by God, we made blintzes so authentic that Moses descended for a taste.

The next day I met Matthew Wharf for lunch. He is originally from Melbourne and runs a club in Bangkok but, this time around, he could not fit me into his line-up. He took me and a wonderful American man he called Wine for lunch. It turned out the man was from New Jersey and his name is Wayne. We talked shop for a couple of hours because ‘Wine’ wants to do stand up and I have the sense he is going to be great at it.  

Lynn Ruth heard about Tel Aviv at Bangkok’s Comedy Den

Then I played a club on the outskirts of the city called Comedy Den Pakkret. The line up was excellent.  

Tristan, one of the comedians there, had married an Israeli. He was telling me how modern and exciting Tel Aviv has become. He also talked a great deal about how biased the foreign press is against Israel, partly because of Netanyahu‘s belligerent policies and partly because so much of the press is anti-Zionist.  

It was a revealing discussion because, even though I personally do not like Israel’s practices toward the people in Gaza, I had never realized that there are so many extenuating circumstances.  

The one observation I made to justify what goes on there is that, after the Holocaust, the Jewish people never want to be in a situation where they are not the majority.  One can hardly blame them for that.

The next day, I met Aidan Killian and Trevor Lock for lunch. Aidan has managed to put on large shows once a month in Bangkok that feature major names like Shazia Mirza. Trevor has lived in Bangkok for several years doing comedy throughout Southeast Asia. He only returns to Britain for short periods of time to do shows in Edinburgh and London.  

It was an interesting lunch because again we talked shop.

It turns out that Bangkok has a very small audience base so it is almost impossible to earn a living doing comedy there. And yet we all agreed stand up comedy is the last place left where you can say what you really think without fear of being banned… though I have to say that is not as true as it once was.  

I still hold to the theory that any topic works if you can make it funny. The idea is to make people laugh.

Isn’t it?

Home to London now, to freeze and get ready for trips to Harrogate and Amsterdam.  

It is a good life.

… LYNN RUTH’s TRIPS CONTINUE HERE

Online, there is a clip of Lynn Ruth on Britain’s Got Talent in 2014.

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In rainy Montenegro, Lynn Ruth Miller prefers vodka to sex advice from Israelis

The ever-seductive Lynn Ruth Miller in Montenegro (Photograph by Marat Abdrakhmanov)

Lynn Ruth Miller, after the rain, in Montenegro (Photograph by Marat Abdrakhmanov)

In this blog, in the last couple of days, I have included missives from American performer Lynn Ruth Miller in Montenegro. She was attending a conference for the over-50s. (She is in her 80s.)

This morning, she was due to fly back to the UK. She sent me the message below. I  can only guess what sex in Israel must be like.


Yesterday we had a lecture on Sex After 50 which was very well attended. The Israeli gentlemen who lectured us is a sex therapist and he told us that all women are always ready for sex at any given time while men have to be encouraged and properly stimulated. He encouraged the men in the audience to find themselves a good sex worker if they wanted to maintain their sexual health.

This is contrary to everything I have learned in my 82 years of avoiding stalkers and encouraging the shy and retiring intellectual types to unzip.

I have found something with every male I have encountered – human, canine or feline. I have not had close associations with other types of mammals. I am not turned-on by a gorilla or a bunny rabbit, although I am sure some women are.

I always say to each her own.

What I have found is that EVERY male is ready to mount anything that is alive – including a flea – at any time of the night and day. It is the female of the species who needs a bit of encouragement, a cuddle and a bit of tweaking to loosen those muscles and get them moving. Sadly, as one gets older and dryer, it has been MY experience that there needs to be a well planned overture to loving, if the main event is not going to be a nightmare.

Our lecturer recommended that all of us practice spelling an appropriate word by rotating our hips. I think that is an excellent idea because I hate yoga.

Most of the women were spelling out NOT NOW while the men could not seem to spell anything I could decipher. Of course, part of the problem was that they were all Russian.

These men do not bother with preambles. They just get in there and get the job done.

After the lecture, we all had coffee and vodka (quite a bit of vodka as a matter of fact) and boarded a bus in torrents of rain to go to a shrine that had a holy saint embalmed in a glass casket so we could kiss his desiccated hand. There was a monk on duty to wipe the hand each time someone kissed it, which made me realize that – in Montenegro at least – even the dead deserve hygienic consideration.

We also climbed a very tall mountain (in the bus) and then descended to sea level, terrorised as the bus zoomed over hairpin curves at 90 miles per hour on a road so narrow two bicycles could not pass one another.

We then recovered from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome in our rooms by drinking large tumblers of vodka and meditating. No-one was spelling a thing with their hips.

I think it might be an age thing.

You get to a point in life when alcohol is a lot easier.

You don’t have to unlace anything.

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Old Jewish Jokes and why comedian Ivor Dembina gets hate mail from Jews

I was partly brought up in Ilford in East London and went to school near Gants Hill which was, at the time, extremely Jewish. When there was a Jewish holiday, class numbers were so depleted that teachers at my school tended to abandon the lessons and have general knowledge tests. One of the bonuses of going to my school, though, was that I got endless top-notch Jewish jokes told by Jews.

Ivor played his Palestine show in Washington

Ivor played his Palestine show in Washington

Next week, Wednesday to Saturday, comedian Ivor Dembina is performing his show called Old Jewish Jokes at the Leicester Square Theatre in London.

“It came about because of my previous solo show This Is Not a Suitable Subject For Comedy,” he told me yesterday. “That was a story with jokes about the Israel-Palestine conflict seen through the eyes of a North London Jew.

“Some people complained it was ‘too political’. So I came up with the idea of preceding it with a 20-minute curtain-raiser called Old Jewish Jokes. Then I was going to have an interval and perform This Is Not a Suitable Subject For Comedy.”

In fact, Ivor never did this. Old Jewish Jokes developed into its own one-hour show.

“One day,” he explained to me, “I did a gig at a Jewish venue and, before the show, the organiser asked me: You’re not going to do jokes about the Holocaust, are you? That slightly threw me – not because I actually do jokes about the Holocaust, though I do jokes about the way people use the Holocaust to fit their own agenda – about people appropriating history for their own purposes. I think that’s fair comment for the current comedian.

“But there was something odd about being asked beforehand about material I was not going to do. So I have worked that idea of being told by a venue owner what jokes not to tell into a narrative in which to tell the old Jewish jokes: Jews and Israel, Jews and money, Jews and sex. There ARE lots of jokes, but it’s underpinned by this story of what it’s like being a modern Jewish comedian when you’re given a shopping list of things you’re not allowed to talk about.

“I tested the show out last August at the Edinburgh Fringe – on a small scale at the Free Festival – and it sold out on the second night and then every night throughout the run. What was clear and heartening was that at least 75% of the audience was non-Jewish. So I thought I’d try it in London. The tickets for the Leicester Square Theatre show are selling really well without any great PR. If it works well there, I’ll probably take it back to Edinburgh again this year, maybe in a bigger pay venue.”

“The title is great,” I said. Old Jewish Jokes. You know exactly what you’re going to get.”

“Yes,” said Ivor, “People don’t come to see Ivor Dembina, by and large: they come because of the title.

Ivor Dembina on the pendulum swings of UK comedy

Ivor Dembina: “a typical alternative comedian”?

“I’m just a typical London-based alternative comedian. I’m used to writing stories about myself or whatever. But I’ve found actually standing on stage telling jokes is really hard. You could tell the best jokes in the world for an hour but, about 10 or 15 minutes in, the audience’s enjoyment will start going down. Which is why it’s so important to have the story in there. It gives the audience a breather and an additional level of interest because it becomes not just about the jokes themselves but about ethnic minorities having a fear of people making jokes about them.

“Black people can make jokes with the word ‘nigger’ in. White people can’t. Jews can make jokes about being mean with money and use the word ‘Yid’ but non-Jews can’t. What’s that all about? All those issues are kind of bubbling underneath and I think that’s what makes this quite an interesting show. The old jokes are great. I don’t have to worry about the jokes. But hopefully the audience may go away thinking about acceptability. Why are some jokes acceptable and others not? Why is the same joke OK in a certain context but not in others? It just stirs it up a little and I like that.

“In London, the Jews still have something of a ghettoised mentality; they tend to live in North West London or Ilford. Most Jewish entertainers work the Jewish community – the culture centres, the synagogue halls. Which is fine. But no-one – particularly in comedy – has yet stuck their neck out and consciously decided to try and take Jewish humour of an English kind out of the community and target it fairly and squarely at the ethnically-mixed audience. That’s what I’m trying to do. Instead of Jews just telling these jokes to each other, the whole culture of Jewish jokes could be opened up to a much wider audience.”

Ivo Dembina at Hampstead Comedy Club last night

Ivor Dembina at his Hampstead Comedy Club last week

“But surely ,” I said, “Jews have been telling jokes about Jews forever? There’s that whole New York Jewish thing.”

“Ah,” said Ivor. “That’s America, Over there the whole Jewish schtick is much more widespread.”

“I suppose you’re right,” I said. “There are loads of British comedians who are Jews, but I can’t think of a single famous comedian over here who you could describe as doing his or her act as ‘a Jewish comedian’. Bernard Manning was a bit Jewish. Jerry Sadowitz is a bit Jewish. But you couldn’t describe either of them as being ‘Jewish comedians’ in the genre sense.”

“Mark Maier does a bit about it,” said Ivor, “and there’s David Baddiel, but you wouldn’t say he’s a specifically Jewish comedian. Lenny Henry was the UK’s ‘black comedian’ but there has never been a comic who became Britain’s Jewish Comedian.”

“Why is that?” I asked.

“America’s a much bigger country,” said Ivor, “and they have a predilection for ethnic assertiveness – I’m an American black! – I’m proud! – I’m an American Jew! – I’m proud! – I’m an American Italian! – I’m proud! Jews in America see themselves as American first and Jewish second. In Britain people see themselves as Jews first and British second.”

“Really?” I said, surprised. “I’m not English, but I’m Scottish and British equally.”

“In my opinion,” said Ivor.

“Lewis Schaffer – a Jewish New York comedian,” I said, “surprised me by saying he was brought up to distrust Gentiles.”

“Well,” said Ivor, “I was brought up to fear Gentiles.”

“They are shifty, untrustworthy?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Ivor. “You can’t trust them. That was what I was told. In a way, the reason why Israel is so important to the Jews is because they see it as a bolt hole to go to if anti-Semitism gets too bad.

Ivor’s Edinburgh show with Omid Djalili: The Arab & The Jew

Ivor’s 1996 Edinburgh show with Omid Djalili: The Arab & The Jew

“I think what drives most Jewish behaviour is fear. Because of the experience of our past… I was brought up to think You can’t trust non-Jews. Obviously you find that same mentality in Israel: You can’t trust the Arabs. Shoot first. Ask questions afterwards. And, in the diasporait’s even more so. If anyone begins to raise a dissenting voice within the community, you get labelled as a traitor. I get hate mail just because I’ve dared to question the prevailing ethos through my comedy and through my very low-level political activity.”

“How did Jews react,” I asked, “to your show This Is Not a Suitable Subject For Comedy? It was about you actually going to Palestine and what you saw there. Did you get hassle about being perceived to be pro-Palestinian?”

“I get loads,” Ivor replied. “Hate mail.”

“Even now?” I asked.

“Not so much now,” said Ivor. “What happens is they try to marginalise you. Its main function is to intimidate you. Life would be easier if I kept quiet. Or to provoke you into doing something or saying something outrageous that will make you look stupid or like a villain. To get under your skin, to make you angry. I’m used to it now. I don’t take any notice of it.

The Bethlehem Unwrapped wall

The Bethlehem Unwrapped wall at St James’s in Piccadilly

“I don’t do much. I took part in that Bethlehem Unwrapped thing where they did a replica of the wall separating Palestine from Israel at that church in Piccadilly. I did a comedy show with Mark Steel, Jeremy Hardy and a couple of other Jewish comedians. And there was a line of people outside complaining Ivor Dembina makes jokes about the Holocaust! Which I don’t. But they’re very organised these Zionist people. It’s like banging your head against the wall.”

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Jewish Israeli comic identifies with Irish Catholics and wants to kill her alter ego

Daphna Baram as ‘Miss D’ - Does she deserve to be killed off?

Daphna Baram as ‘Miss D’ – Does she deserve to be killed off?

Daphna Baram is an Israeli living in the UK. Formerly a lawyer in Israel, she is now a freelance journalist who writes for newspapers such as the Guardian. She also performs as a comedian under the name Miss D. Until this year, she has always kept her Daphna Baram and Miss D personas separate.

But her Edinburgh Fringe show this year was called Killing Miss D.

I saw it in London last week and she is about to tour it round the UK.

“In the past,” I said to her, “you’ve had members of the Palestine Solidarity Group coming in to see your shows.”

“Yes,” agreed Daphna. “In Edinburgh and in Glasgow, I was calling on people to join the Palestine Solidarity Group. Though when they do come – a lot of them are serious political activists – they like the political bits in my shows but I’m not sure how comfortable they are about the Miss D bits. I think that is the thing with my shows. Nobody ever gets everything what they expect; they always get more than they bargained for.

“I’ve been an activist on Palestine for many years and it comes into my writing and my comedy and journalism and everything I do. But I can’t do only political material.”

“Which,” I said, “is the divergence in your shows between Daphna Baram and your comedian persona Miss D.”

“Yes,” she agreed. “So Killing Miss D is about the gap between Daphna Baram, the good conscientious political journalist and ex-lawyer who wants to liberate Palestine… and Miss D… and how I try to kill Miss D because you and all sorts of people kept saying: Stop performing as Miss D; start performing as you.

Miss D - pushy, sassy, rambunctious?

Miss D – pushy, sassy, pretty rambunctious?

“I tried and tried to be solely myself, but Miss D kept pushing me off the stage. So, in the end, the division of labour on Killing Miss D is this: Daphna has written the show but Miss D says she is performing it because she is the better performer. And, the way Miss D sees it, she performs it because she is pretty and I’m not.

“Instead of trying to eliminate each other off stage, we are talking together about how we tried to kill each other. Miss D by giving Daphna a heart attack, by living a wild life, by taking all sorts of risks and misbehaving. And… well, in the show, Miss D explains how Daphna is trying to kill her.”

“So,” I said, “it’s just a comedy show. Not therapy.”

“Massively therapy,” replied Daphna. “Very Gestalt. But I don’t like shows that are therapeutic in the sense that the act is falling on the neck of the audience and asking them for salvation. I think it’s good to do a show that is therapeutic after you’ve already done the therapy and done the process of integrating your characters. I could not have done this show while Daphna Baram and Miss D were very acrimonious to each other.”

“What’s the difference between the two?” I asked.

“Miss D is funny.”

“But Daphna Baram is funny too,” I said.

“Daphna’s funny,” admitted Daphna, “but she also knows irony and has political jokes. Miss D is… Well, reviewers always say she’s sassy and vivacious and loud. One word someone suggested on Facebook was ‘rambunctious’ and I like the sound of that. I guess she’s most often called ‘sassy’.”

“I instinctively feel you are,” I said, “but I’m never too sure exactly what ‘sassy’ means when referring to comedians.”

Daphna at the Fringe in August

Daphna was at the Fringe this August

“I think it means ‘has big tits’ doesn’t it?” replied Daphna.

“That would be it,” I agreed.

“My act is difficult to describe,” said Daphna.

“You were,” I said, “in a ‘Best of Irish’ show at the Edinburgh Fringe this year. Despite the fact you’re an Israeli Jew.”

“I think it’s easier for people from the Eastern Mediterranean,” she said, “to gel with the Irish than for us to gel with the English. I don’t know if it’s a Celtic thing. Maybe it’s a bit of a Catholic thing.”

“You gel with them because you’re Catholic?” I asked.

“I think all Jews are kind of Catholic.”

“Maybe it’s the guilt,” I suggested,.

“I think,” said Daphna, “it’s something to do with the sense of… I think… I think when I met Irish people, I mainly thought They’re Arabs.”

“You are an Israeli,” I pointed out to Daphna. “You’re not supposed to get on with the Arabs.”

“But we ARE kind of Arabs.”

“Semitic, yeah,” I said.

“We’re similar in our traditions,” explained Daphna, “in the way we view the… We have big families… We have a strong sense of friendship… Our friends become part of our extended family… You can very quickly become someone’s Best Mate after three hours of drinking.”

“So this is an Israeli admitting the Arabs and Israeli are actually all the same Semitic people?” I asked.

“It’s not a race thing…” said Daphna.

“You may be right,” I said. “The Irish like killing each other… just like the Arabs and Israelis like killing each other. It’s like supporters of two football teams in the same city hating each other.”

“This is not what I’m trying to say,” said Daphna. “Maybe I just like the Irish cos they’re great guys.”

Daohna Baram in Dublin last week

Daphna Baram looking surprisingly Irish in Dublin last week

“So how,” I asked, “did they explain on stage that, in a show billed as ‘Best of Irish Comedy’, there was suddenly a Jewish Israeli woman performing.”

“They didn’t explain,” said Daphna. “They just introduced me.”

“That’s very Irish,” I said.

“I had to go on stage and explain which part of Ireland my accent stems from. I said I was from the Eastern Colonies.”

“Well, to look at you,” I said, “I suppose you could be Spanish and there’s lots of Spanish blood in southern Ireland from the Armada when the sailors got washed ashore from the ships that sank.”

“It’s not a race thing,” said Daphna.

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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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Death threats to Edinburgh performer and attack on New York promoter

(A version of this was also published by the Indian news site We Speak News and in the UK edition of the Huffington Post)

Calvin Wynter – object of racist threats

I am allegedly a UK consultant for the Inbrook entertainment company in New York. This means that Inbrook boss Calvin Wynter occasionally phones me up at odd hours from New York. Well, odd hours for him. I think he may never sleep.

Yesterday morning, he phoned me up to talk about two shows which Inbrook is promoting at the Edinburgh Fringe next month. One is an Israeli show; one includes in its title a reference to the Hamas organisation.

Repertory Theatre: the now controversial Israeli show

Repertory Theatre is being produced by The Elephant and the Mouse – the only Israeli production company at this year’s Fringe.

Jennifer Jajeh’s show is called I Heart Hamas: And Other Things I’m Afraid to Tell You.

Jennifer Jajeh  promotes her show in “I Heart Hamas” shirt

This morning, Calvin phoned me from New York to tell me that “Jennifer Jajeh  has received death threats and there are calls to boycott her show at the Edinburgh Fringe… and now I too am being threatened and called an anti-Semite.”

Unconnected to these death threats, Calvin – who is incidentally a  black American – earlier this morning received this e-mail:

_______

From: Steve Malone <editor2@insidehoops.com>

Date: Thu, Jul 26, 2012 at 3:06 AM

Subject: Supporting suicide-bombing Jew-hating manaics

To: Calvin Wynter

You vile, antisemitic pieces of garbage should go rot in hell.

Fuck you, and fuck your piece of shit parents for creating you.

Steve

__________

Bizarrely, this appears to come from www.insidehoops.com which describes itself as “the most popular independent pro basketball website in the world”.

Calvin seems particularly bemused by being called an anti-Semite.

“For the record,” he says, “my great grandmother was a Sephardic Jew from Syria. In essence I am being attacked because Inbrook is promoting both a Palestinian American Christian – Jennifer Jajeh – and two Israeli Jews – The Elephant and the Mouse.”

He tells me he thinks what this exposes is “The ignorance of blind hate”.

Yes indeed. And it is ironic, too, given that the email allegedly from Steve Malone is apparently opposed to terrorism.

My dictionary defines Terrorism as “The use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims”.

The emphasis is mine.

The sender should also note that, in the subject heading of his e-mail, he has mis-spelt the word maniacs as “manaics”. This is never a good start.

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