Finally, we're no longer a niche

Look around — TV and film in the UK are finally embracing the Jewish voice

By Tracy-Ann Oberman, August 19, 2010

For those of you who have become familiar with me through these columns, or indeed are related to me and only get a chance to catch up with me via this hallowed newspaper because I don't answer the phone very often (sorry mum), then you'll know that I do take my charitable and civic responsibilities seriously.

I do try to do my bit, however small that bit may be. I've done a number of luncheon talks recently and been a host of charitable award
ceremonies, but it's the time of year when three of my favourite pastimes come together: being Jewish (and New Year honey cake), comedy and film.

One of my favourite responsibilities is being a patron of the UK
Jewish Film Festival, and this year
I have been asked to be their ambassador. I am hoping for a badge, a chain, or at least a carton of free popcorn every time I attend a cinema in north west London.

I admire the Jewish Film Festival. It's a chance to see the plethora of global talent out there: actors, cameramen, sound engineers, writers, producers, film scorers, animators and financiers, all involved in some aspect of capturing the Jewish experience on celluloid. How amazing that in the past few years this unassuming festival has premiered such award-winning and ground-breaking productions as Waltz With Bashir and Lebanon, as well as classics like The Bar Mitzvah Boy.

This year's festival is hoping to widen its appeal by focusing a large part of its output on Jewish comedy, and it has hit upon the zeitgeist because, suddenly, the 'British Jewish Experience' is hot comedy news. The Infidel (David Baddiel's recent film about a Muslim man finding out he's actually been adopted from Jewish parents) achieved a wide impact and the small screen is bringing us not one but two Jewish sitcoms: BBC's Grandma's House and Channel 4's soon-to-be-screened Friday Night.

For too long, Jewish comedy here has been based on the American voice, through Woody, Larry and Jerry

These may not be to everyone's taste but how fantastic that they have been made at all and are so young, contemporary and vibrant.

For too long Jewish comedy here and around the world has been based on the - albeit brilliant - American voice, through such luminaries as Woody Allen, Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld, and characters in sitcoms like Will and Grace, Friends and Frasier. But we on this side of the pond have found it hard to turn our bat-squeak into a roar.

Who have we had representing us in the past decade and a half - other than Dr Legg (in 'Enders ) and Dorian (Birds of a Feather)?

A number of years ago, around the time of Goodness Gracious Me, a gang of us media types came up with a Jewish sketch show which we called, rather daringly, From The People Who Brought You Jesus. It never got commissioned.

We were told there were too few Jews in the UK, that most people had never even met a Jew and
consequently this programme would have no broad appeal. It
was too niche.

Well, niche no longer. I'm currently putting together a short film about Jewish humour with director Harvey Brown and people have been incredibly supportive in wanting to take part.

Comedians, actors, musicians and DJs, and artists of all different creeds, colours and religions are unanimous in saying that Jews are funny.

Hooray. As long as we don't talk about Israel, everything is going to go swimmingly.

Last updated: 11:18am, August 19 2010