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!
“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. 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…”
“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?”
“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.
“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.
“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.”
“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.”