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Critic Kate Copstick on what makes a good Edinburgh Fringe comedy show and how to get reviewed by her (maybe)

Yesterday’s Jewish Comedy Day

Yesterday’s very full Jewish Comedy Day

The second (25 minute) Grouchy Club weekly podcast went online last night. Comedy critic Kate Copstick and I recorded it immediately after a live Grouchy Club show at Arlene Gorodensky-Greenhouse‘s  Jewish Comedy Day in the London Jewish Cultural Centre.

It was edge-of-the-seat stuff for Copstick and me, as we both had diarrhoea and had been told not to mention the Holocaust.

There was a high percentage of comedians in the audience at yesterday’s live show and one asked: “What makes a good Edinburgh Fringe show?”

“Honesty and passion,” Copstick told her, “both of which are in increasingly short supply, because now too many people just want to be on telly. They don’t really want to be stand-up comics. They want to be presenters, so they’re just looking for the shortest possible route through all the nastiness, which is stand-up.

“The most wonderful shows I’ve seen are all about passion, about honesty. I saw shows in tents, halfway up The Mound; I saw shows that only lasted 15 minutes. They’re the special ones. What the Fringe is for, especially now we’ve got the Free Fringe, is passion and honesty and doing what you want to say your way.

Giada Garofalo and Janet Bettesworth after yesterday’s show

Giada Garofalo and Janet Bettesworth after yesterday’s show

“If it’s your first time, then it’s finding out what sticks to the wall. NOT thinking: Ooh! I’ll do an hour by numbers because it’s just what the Fosters judges are looking for. There are hundreds of those shows at the Fringe. It’s about finding out what your USP is. A comic should have a real, burning personality and a voice that should not be like anybody else’s – otherwise, what the fuck are you doing as a stand-up?”

I added: “What’s going to be interesting, by definition, is something the audience has never seen before. If you’ve seen it before, it’s not going to be as interesting. If a comic is doing something vaguely similar to someone else, they should dump it.”

“Unless,” Copstick argued, “you’re doing it much better than them.”

“Even so,” I said, “it wouldn’t be THAT interesting. If you’re doing it better, you’re probably doing it in a slightly different way.”

The Grouchy Club will be back at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, running daily 14th-30th August at 3.45-4.45pm.

Copstick makes a point in the second Grouchy Club podcast

Copstick makes a point in the second Grouchy Club podcast

Later yesterday, in the Grouchy Club podcast, Copstick made an appeal to stand-up comics:

“If anyone has a comedy show that is on between 3.00pm and 5.00pm, then do feel free to get in touch with me (copstick@grouchyclub.co.uk) and try to get me to come and see your show before 14th August. If you are one of these highfalutin comics with some expensive PR who is going to turn round and say something to me like: Ummm… (insert name)’s show is not quite ready yet; we’d like you to come after the 19th, then fuck you!

“If your show is on between those two times – 3.00pm and 5.00pm – I can only really come before the 14th, because I would not want to leave John on his own, because he might not be on form. At the moment, his creativity is leaping out in diarrhoea-coloured fluid from his little clenched bottom as we speak.”

And that is why Copstick is the doyenne of Edinburgh Fringe comedy reviewers. Honesty, passion and a vivid turn of phrase.

I had an edge-of-the-seat ride home on the train.

You can hear the 25-minute Grouchy Club audio podcast HERE and see a 3-minute video clip HERE.

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Oy! What do you say to the frustrated organiser of a Jewish comedy day?

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

The Edinburgh Grouchy Club, being revived in North London

I mentioned this last year. Pay attention.

On 22nd February this year, comedy critic Kate Copstick and I are reprising our Edinburgh Fringe show The Grouchy Club for a Jewish Comedy Day at the London Jewish Cultural Centre. Neither of us are Jewish and the tickets are only £5. Life is full of constant surprises.

The organiser of this fine upcoming Jewish Comedy Day is Arlene Greenhouse. We met when she came to see a couple of Grouchy Club shows in Edinburgh last August.

Arlene is also organising a Kitchen Komedy show tomorrow night at the Hendon Park Cafe headlined by US comic Avi Liberman. It promises: “Kosher food, including yummy sushi.”

So yesterday, obviously, I had a chat with Arlene at Hendon Park Cafe.

Yesterday, she paid for the food.

Afterwards, I realised I had forgotten to take a photo of her for this blog. So I Googled “Arlene Gorodensky mum’s the word” on Google Images.

To find out why that name, you will have to read further.

This is not a picture of Arlene Greenhouse

Not the real Arlene Greenhouse

The interesting thing is that the first actual facial image to be displayed by Google Images was one of Wonder Woman.

“I like asking the questions,” Arlene told me yesterday. “I don’t like being judged.”

“I don’t judge,” I told her.

“This is my debut into – I dunno,” said Arlene. “Promoting? Organising?”

“Well, you’ve got a great line-up for the February Comedy Day,” I said, “present company excepted. I’ve read the programme. What do you see it as?”

“It’s celebrating Jewish comedy,” said Arlene, “like a spa day – where you come and get your fill of laughter and feel better for five days afterwards.”

“It’s just a talky-talky day?” I asked.

“No,” said Arlene, “We have everything. We have…”

“Strippers?” I asked hopefully.

“Yes, we do have a stripper,” said Arlene. “We have Lynn Ruth Miller performing. But, more seriously, it’s always been a very important part of our culture to be able to laugh at all the hardship. My first gig, I performed at…”

“You performed?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“I didn’t know that,” I said, “but I find research is over-rated.”

Still not a photo of Arlene Greenhouse - This is Roseanne Barr

Not Arlene Greenhouse – Roseanne Barr

“My very first gig ever – if I can call it a gig,” said Arlene, “I was on-stage with Roseanne Barr in Montreal in 1983 (Arlene comes from Montreal) and we were volleying Jewish jokes back-and-forth.”

“This,” I asked, “was when Roseanne Barr was still unknown?”

“No. she was already known.”

“So your first gig was onstage with a famous comedienne?”

“Yeah. And – though my daughter thinks this is a lie – I did tell Ellen DeGeneres in 1982 after her show in a little seedy basement comedy club in New York that she was gonna be famous. She was so amazing. The type of humour I like. She was talking about bridesmaids and how the bride chooses her ugliest friends to walk down the aisle and, to make doubly sure she shines, she puts them in slime-green bridesmaids dresses.”

“How long were you doing comedy for?” I asked.

“I wasn’t,” said Arlene. “I have had one gig maybe every two decades. I have done about six now. My biggest regret in life is that I never wrote for Joan Rivers. I could never figure out how to do it.”

“You had the opportunity?” I asked.

“No.”

“Why should you have written for her?” I asked.

“Because my humour is the same as hers.”

“So,” I asked, “you must be a frustrated writer-performer?”

“I’d prefer to write,” said Arlene. “I do like the limelight but I would prefer to write, because you can do that in your pyjamas.”

“You should write for Lewis Schaffer,” I said.

Lewis Schaffer last night - aspiring moustache twirler

Lewis Schaffer not to be confused with Arlene

“About a year ago,” said Arlene, “I went and saw Lewis Schaffer and I said: Lewis Schaffer! Gimme the mike! and I got up and he was heckling me the whole time and I  felt very comfortable with that because, when I was growing up, you sat around the table in my house and you heckled each other. That’s how we communicated. There was never a compliment. It was like: You think you look good? You don’t look good.”

“Lewis Schaffer is at your February Comedy Day too,” I said, “interviewing critic Bruce Dessau.”

“Yeah. He’s not gonna embarrass me is he?”

“Lewis Schaffer?”

“Yes.”

“You don’t really know Lewis Schaffer, do you?” I said.

“I do.”

“Well of course he’s going to embarrass you,” I told her.

“Oh God,” said Arlene. “I’m gonna have to threaten him. Seriously.”

“You like his act?” I asked.

“I like a comedian in a jacket. It makes a big difference.”

“Potatoes have jackets,” I said. “I preferred him when he dyed his hair. Why don’t you do something about writing? They’re crying out for writers at the BBC.”

“I did write a sitcom script,” said Arlene. “I thought it was quite good.”

“I’m working on something very similar myself,” I told her.

“About what?”

“About whatever you are about to tell me. The trouble with the Beeb is that they’re inclined to steal people’s ideas. So what did you do with your script?”

“I sent it to the BBC and that was it.”

“You heard nothing back?” I asked.

Arlene shrugged.

“So,” I said, “this thing tomorrow night…”

American comic Avi Liberman (right)

American comic Avi Liberman (right) will be in Hendon…

“I met this guy Avi Liberman on Facebook,” Arlene told me. “He said he was coming to London so I said: Do you want me to organise a gig for you?

“My cheap psychology,” I said, “still tells me you are a frustrated comedy performer. Or writer. You…”

“I am such a frustrated comedian person,” agreed Arlene.

“But, in real life…” I prompted.

“I’m a psychotherapist,” Arlene told me, “but I’m winding down, because I do find comedy a lot more…”

“Me too,” I said, “You could spend a career doing therapy on comics.”

“Look at Lewis Schaffer…” said Arlene. “I’m talking as a psychotherapist now, rather than as a comedy audience. Lewis Schaffer is funny, but he has a fear of success. If he would just put the effort into it, he would be top, top. You have all these students doing academic papers on him because he really is something to study. This whole persona built on failure. Is it a persona? Is it the self? What is it?”

“I think,” I said, “that loads of comedians sabotage their careers intentionally. Well, maybe subconsciously. They know what it’s like to fail and to struggle and they know they can cope with that: the empty, slight pain in their stomach.”

“They know they can deal with the familiar,” said Arlene.

“Yeah,” I said. “But they’re subconsciously frightened of succeeding, because it’s the unknown. Lewis Schaffer would be a great presenter of documentaries – or be good on TV panel shows – because he’s got lots of interesting views and odd knowledge but he can’t duplicate the exact same word-for-word act time-after-time, which is what the want for stand-up on TV. What sort of psychotherapy did you specialise in?”

Arlene Greenhouse - Mum’s The Word

Arlene’s 1996 book on mummy’s boys

“Nothing. Eclectic. But I also wrote a book in 1996: Mum’s The Word: The Mamma’s Boy Syndrome Revealed under my maiden name Arlene Gorodensky. It’s been translated into about six languages. I made no money out of it. Somebody has.”

“That’s publishing for you,” I said. “Are comedians mummy’s boys?”

“Not necessarily,” Arlene said. “I married my husband because he’s very funny.”

“What does he do?” I asked.

“He’s a lawyer. That’s not funny, but he’s probably one of the funniest people I know. When we have an argument, I always say to him: The only reason I don’t dump you is because you’re so funny. He proposed to me on our first date and, afterwards, he said: My mother told me to ask all women to marry me so they know I am serious and I’m not going to waste their time. I was the one out of a hundred that said Yes to him.”

“You said Yes on the first date?”

“Well, I didn’t say No.”

“Where was your first date?”

Arlene Gorodensky-Greenhouse as she wants to be seen...

Arlene Gorodensky-Greenhouse as she wants to be seen…

“He took me to the Savoy and told me: You’re going to have a very hard time getting married. I was 36 and he was 48. Neither of us had ever been married. The only good piece of advice my mother gave me was: Marry rich. Did I listen? No.”

“Yes you did,” I said. “He’s a lawyer!”

“She wanted me to marry a doctor,” explained Arlene. “I’ve been a disappointment to my parents.”

Arlene is performing comedy at the Hendon show tomorrow.

It will be interesting.

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A day to laugh at Jews

Birth of the world’s mot famous Jew

The birth of Jesus, the world’s most famous Jew (born c 5 BC)

As it is almost Christmas, it seems appropriate I should mention Jews. I feel He would have wanted it.

Laughing at Jews has become an international tradition and a special day has now been set aside – Sunday 22nd February. If you are not attending church that day, I suggest you book now.

Sunday 22nd February 2015 is when the London Jewish Cultural Centre is holding a Jewish Comedy Day in North West London.

They say: “When your history is filled with pogroms and persecution, what else can you do but laugh?”

The day includes:

  • Jewish Mothers: Myth or Mirth
  • A Room With a Jew
  • Speed Pitching: Sitcom with Bennett Arron
  • Laughing Yoga
  • It’s a Verkakte World with Lynn Ruth Miller

… and Beyond The Joke, based on the esteemed comedy website of the same name.

In that session, comedian Lewis Schaffer will be interviewing comedy critic Bruce Dessau.

“Surely poor Bruce will not get a word in?” I asked Lewis Schaffer. “And surely he should be interviewing you?”

LewisSchaffer (Photograph by my eternally-un-named friend)

Lewis Schaffer, the definitive New York Jew at the Hare Krishna temple in Hertfordshire (Photograph by M-E-U-N-F)

Lewis Schaffer, of course, ignored this question and told me about himself:

“Bruce listed my show as one of the ten shows he must see in the last week of the Edinburgh Fringe in August and then either forgot to come OR didn’t have time to write about it.

“He saw one of my first shows in the UK – upstairs at the old East Dulwich Tavern – back in 2000. That night I should have learned that, while British audiences may look like American audiences, they aren’t like American audiences. I was booed offstage TWICE.

“First was when I pointed out that there were three black guys in a room full of white people after saying to the three black men in the front: Hello black guys.

“I begged forgiveness and asked to be allowed back on stage and start again. I then repeated the entire sequence of jokes and then said again: Hello black guys.

“I thought it was ballsy and funny but the audience did not. British audiences do not like being pointed out by racial characteristics, unlike American audiences. It can be done and I can now do it, but the comic must understand how charged a situation the comic is entering.”

Another session on the Jewish Comedy Day in February is a reprise of The Grouchy Club – the chat show which critic Kate Copstick and I did at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe and will again do at next year’s Edinburgh Fringe.

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

Copstick and me at the Grouchy Club in Edinburgh this year

I am not Jewish but seem to have been surrounded by Jews my entire life.

This was a good thing at school, because normal lessons were pretty-much abandoned during Jewish holidays in favour of general knowledge quizzes.

There seemed little point doing normal lessons when, for example, the Latin class was missing two-thirds of its pupils.

Everyone had to study French and one other language – the choice being between German and Latin.

Most Jews at my school chose Latin.

I also had to be circumcised late in life for what were claimed to be medical reasons but what was, I suspect, either some bizarre in-joke or a job creation scheme by doctors who were manufacturing handbags from the cut-off bits. When you rubbed the handbags, they became suitcases.

And that, dear reader, is why I am not and have no ambition to be a comedian.

Merely a Jewish chat show co-host kinda goy.

A boy has to have ambitions.

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