Tag Archives: Jewish

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

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

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

Yossi Tarablus

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yohay Sponder

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

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

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

Shahar Hason

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Filed under Comedy, Humor, Humour, Israel, Jewish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So my impression was that Jews were intelligent.

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

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

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

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

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

The offending and offensive anti-Semitic piece

The offending and offensive anti-Semitic piece posted on Facebook

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

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

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

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

and

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reactions (among many) to my Tweet included:

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

@brendancommins: What a tosser!

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

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

Other responses included:

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

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

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

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

I replied:

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

That remains my view.

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

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

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Filed under Jewish, Racism

Martin Besserman, Margaret Thatcher, a Jewish Christmas and a chicken poem

Martin Besserman at Monkey Business yesterday

Martin Besserman was up to more Monkey Business last night

Comedy promoter Martin Besserman of Monkey Business has been staging Jewish Christmas shows for around ten years.

“This year,” he told me, “it’s in the Glasshouse Room in the Holiday Inn, Camden. And I’ve booked the room for New Year’s Eve as well.”

“A Jewish Christmas show?” I asked.

“Jews traditionally love going out on Christmas Eve,” he explained. “I don’t know why that is. They drink Coca Cola or coffee, not alcoholic drinks. They love their entertainment, then they go home and eat cake.”

“They eat cake?” I asked.

“They eat cake,” repeated Martin Besserman.

“How do you make the show Jewish AND Christmassy?” I asked.

“It’s primarily Jewish acts – Adam Bloom, Lewis Schaffer, Lenny Beige, Simon Schatzeberger as Woody Allen – and it coincides with it being Hanukkah. It’s not compulsory to be Jewish to come in. I mean, we’re not going to check your schmekel…”

“Schmekel?” I asked. “What’s a schmekel?”

“It’s exactly what you think it might be,” Martin told me.

“You’ve been in the show business a while,” I said.

“When I started off,” Martin told me, “I was 15, I joined a theatre group, performing in Parliament Hill. I always wanted to entertain. You’ve blogged about my days at Speakers’ Corner. Then I was in a band. We were put on with guys like The Pretenders and Depeche Mode.”

“You were glam rock?” I asked.

“I’ve done punk, everything,” said Martin. “My first gig was at the Electric Ballroom in Camden: I was the only support act for Adam & The Ants: we had the same manager.”

“What were you called?” I asked.

young Martin Besserman - man of music

Young Martin Besserman… was a glam man of music

“Just Martin Besserman. Sometimes I had a backing band. Sometimes I went on as a solo poet. I even went to 10 Downing Street and complained about my housing conditions to Mrs Thatcher. She made sure I got re-homed. Her Press Secretary got in touch with me and told me she had looked at my housing situation and, three weeks later, I was offered a new place to live.”

“What was wrong with your housing situation?” I asked.

“I was four flights of stairs up,” explained Martin, “and every time I needed to go to the toilet I had to go downstairs but sometimes I couldn’t be bothered and did it in a bottle and poured it out the window. I did a lot of campaigning poems in those days. I did one about chickens in Petticoat Lane, because I was a vegetarian.”

“When did you start being a vegetarian?”

“In my twenties… In those days, chickens were sold in public and people would grab hold of the chicken and mishandled and I was very upset about that as an animal lover. It was horrible. They would chop their heads off in public in Petticoat Lane. So I got in touch with the Daily Mail and I also got publicity on Capital Radio. I wrote a poem about it:

I’m a poor little helpless chicken
Imprisoned in a cramped box made of wood
I can hardly breathe in this chosen environment
If only they understood

There is no Valium to calm me down
I’m hungry and thirsty too
I’ve got a broken wing and there’s not a vet around
If you were a chicken it could have been you

There is a death smell from my murdered mates
I’m sure my turn is near
The slaughterer’s hands will soon be around my throat
I suppose it could at least end my fear

I understand I must make tasty food
After all I’m a beautiful creature
But now I’m on show
As part of a Petticoat Lane tourist feature

…I can’t remember the rest, but…”

“So you were a vegetarian?” I asked.

“I am,” said Martin. “I love animals. I don’t feel we have the right to abuse them in the way we do. I often see people campaigning for Corbyn – all the injustices in the world – and some of those injustices that they’re talking about have a lot of credibility. I understand that. But they’re the same people who will think nothing about being part of the mass murder, suffering and exploitation of animals. I don’t want to be part of the pain and suffering.”

Besserman Jewish Chrisrtmas

Have a Besserman Jewish Christmas…

Besserman Jewish New Year

Have a Besserman New Year’s Eve…

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

Jackie Mason show flyer

The Jackie Mason flyer for his London shows

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A rare sight last night - Lewis Schaffer writing material

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

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

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

“Yes; Free Until Famous: £5.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lewis schaffer performing at Monkey business last night

Lewis Schaffer performing at Monkey Business

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

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

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

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

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

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Filed under Comedy, Jewish

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 stabbing in Frith Street, Soho, and Ronnie Kray’s one and only robbery

Krayzy Days by Micky Fawcett

Micky Fawcett’s first-hand memories

I was talking to Micky Fawcett, author of the book Krayzy Days about his times with iconic London gangsters the Krays Twins.

I mentioned 1950s London Jewish criminal Jack Spot. There was an infamous knife fight in Soho involving Jack Spot.

Micky Fawcett is probably the only person who personally knew Jack Spot, the Kray Twins and Billy Hill.

“When I was 16,” Micky told me, “I was working on fruit stalls in Upton Park. The stall that I worked on got shut down, because they decided it was an obstruction and a feller said to me: If you’re looking for a job, I can get you one in Aldgate. A pal of mine has opened an auction room there. Aldgate was completely Jewish at that time.

“So he took me up to No 2, The Minories in Aldgate. They used to have fortnightly auctions there – confectionary and food and textiles and haberdashery all alternating. It was a ‘long firm’ but I had never heard the phrase then.

“The long firm was run by these two fellers named Jack and Maurice Sohn and a feller called Leon Kaiser – crooks, gangsters  – I didn’t know. I was quite naive at 16. I had just left school.

“They introduced me to this feller called Sonny The Yank – his real name was Bernard Schack. He was introduced to me as: This is Sonny – He’s Jack Spot’s right-hand man. But I didn’t even know who Jack Spot was.

Jack Spot! they said. He’s the boss! You’ve never heard of him? He’s the king of the underworld! Sonny is Jack Spot’s right-hand man. You know when you see a man with the wage bag chained to his hand? They don’t do it when Sonny’s around. He cuts their hand off. 

“I got very friendly with Sonny, so then he introduced me to Jack Spot. I was 16, so I was honoured to meet him. Then my National Service papers came through for the Army. And, right at that time was that fight you were talking about on the corner of Frith Street. I saw it on the newspaper placards.”

Billy Hill at home - from the book Krayzy Days

Billy Hill at home – pic from Krayzy Days

The fight took place in a Soho greengrocer’s shop between Jack Spot and Albert Dimes, one of Billy Hill’s bodyguards. According to reports, the fight was stopped when Mrs Sophie Hyams, the greengrocer’s 13-stone wife, picked up a large metal scoop and started beating the two men about the head with it.

At the subsequent trial – according to, of all newspapers, The Spokane Daily Chronicle in a 1955 article headlined British Thugs Shun Guns But They Can Be Tough – Jack Spot got off after evidence from “a venerable clerk in holy orders – the Reverend Basil Claude Hudson Andrews – 88, who came forth solemnly and swore the bookmaker had not wielded the knife. Spot was acquitted on this impressive testimony, but it then developed the star witness had a most curious background for a minister. He finally admitted he had committed perjury.”

The reverend, it seemed, had a taste for whisky and women, did not pay his gambling debts and had been found wandering about the Cumberland Hotel in London, living on nothing but continental breakfasts. He had been persuaded to perjure himself for £63 by Sonny the Yank and Moishe Bluebell (whose actual nickname ‘Blueball’ was not printed by embarrassed newspapers because it referred to the fact he had one discoloured testicle).

According to The Spokane Daily Chronicle, as a result of the trial: “Britons found to their chagrin that they had their own colorful collection of Damon Runyon characters – Sonny The Yank, Moishe Blue Boy, Benny The Kid, Flash Harry, Erny The Gent, Monkey Johnny, Joey Kings Cross.”

Micky Fawcett told me: “Aldgate and Soho in 1955 were the best places I had ever been.”

The knife fight in Frith Street marked the start of a slow decline for Jack Spot’s criminal reign and, later, the Kray Twins and The Richardsons became the ‘top dogs’ in London crime.

“The Krays,” I said to Micky, “were Bethnal Green, but that’s pretty much the same as…”

“Oh no,” he said, “they lived practically in Aldgate. And they were born in 1933, so they would have been in their early twenties when the knife fight happened.”

“Did they want to be criminals?” I asked.

“Well, people wouldn’t believe it now,” said Micky, “but they always disdained criminals even right to the end. They didn’t like criminals. They used to call them ‘jailbirds’. The image they had of themselves was that they were celebrities. That was how they saw the world.”

“So they thought they were above the law?” I asked.

Jailbirds? they’d say. We don’t want jailbirds. The Twins never stole anything. Well, once… I am the only man who has ever been on a robbery with Ronnie Kray.

‘We were in the Twins’ Regency Club and there was a big cellar in the basement, which they had let out to a firm of carpet suppliers – Gannon & Hamish – they supplied all these expensive Indian carpets.

“One of Ronnie’s friends – Dickie Morgan – said: Ron, what we’ll do… We’ll get locked in here tonight, then we’ll nick all them carpets: they’re worth a fortune.

“So Ronnie asked me: Can you get someone with a van? We’re gonna rob downstairs in our own place.

Micky Fawcett (left) with Reggie Kray and Frances

Micky Fawcett (left) with Reggie Kray and Frances Kray

“So we got a van, stayed behind, got locked in and, at about six o’clock the next morning – so as not to arouse suspicion moving things late at night – we loaded all the carpets into the van and took them over to a feller in Chingford to sell them to him.

“He looked at them and said: They’re a load of fucking rubbish! They’re just Belgian rubbish! They’re not worth anything!

“So then Ronnie turned and wanted to strangle Dickie Morgan. That’s the only robbery Ronnie ever did.”

“What did he do with the carpets?” I asked.

“That’s a good question,” said Micky. “I don’t know. He threw them away, probably.”

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3 tips for podcasting and broadcasting

At The Grouchy Club yesterday: a bad selfie of Coptick and me

Hosting The Grouchy Club at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe

Tomorrow, comedy critic Kate Copstick and I are co-hosting a live Grouchy Club chat show at the Jewish Comedy Day in North West London.

Immediately afterwards, we are recording our second Grouchy Club podcast.

Yesterday, someone gave me three tips for podcasting.

The third one, I think, holds true for doing anything creative in general.

1) Making a mistake doesn’t matter because you will learn from it. The only crime is to leave a silent gap (except for  comic effect!).

2) If people love or hate something you do, it means they treat you seriously. Either is good. If people don’t care one way or the other, they have no respect for you.

3) You don’t have to listen to your successes, but you should always listen to your failures… You can learn to be better  from your mistakes. You can’t learn anything from your successes except complacency.

There is a 10-minute video clip on YouTube taken from last weekend’s 43-minute Grouchy Club audio podcast.

The general page for The Grouchy Club podcasts is HERE.

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