By the time you read this, I will be recovering from the first four London preview performances of my new Edinburgh Fringe stand-up comedy show, It’s No Job For A Nice Jewish Girl. Or as I’ve been calling it all week: No One Forced You To Do This, Clearly You Signed Up In A Moment Of Weakness And Ego. My aim was to write something completely accessible because, after all, I can’t solely rely on Jews to make up my Edinburgh audience. (Please, God, let there be an audience!)
To this end, I’ve spent the past six months gigging all over London, trying out aspects of my show on the Great British Public. One show was at a venue so English that it resembled the Slaughtered Lamb pub in An American Werewolf In London. I walked in to turning heads and a sudden silence. This audience hadn’t grown up in a bustling, cosmopolitan metropolis like Hendon or Borehamwood. There was going to be no Jewish shorthand, no giggling at the word, kreplach. All Jewdar had been switched off, even mine was in aeroplane mode.
Fighting off the desire to retrain as a pharmacist, I embraced the opportunity. These might not be my people of birth, but they were there for comedy so they were still my people. Their response would indicate whether I’d created an issue-led show that anyone could identify with, or a TED talk about being a Jewish granddaughter of refugees.
To my immense relief, it went really well. At the end, a member of the audience told me how her Indian grandparents had influenced her sense of self. The bartender asked me to sign a copy of my flyer in case I become famous. I hope he put it in a very safe place.
I’ve always enjoyed being a little bit different, having an unexpected angle on things. It’s fun when you’re able to subvert expectations and play with people’s ideas of what makes a “Nice Jewish Girl”. Having worked in some pretty unusual careers, I’ve been able to assess how others judge me using the simple litmus test of which table I’m seated at for their family simchah, and how other guests respond.
As I got married at only 20 years old, I’d barely left “the children’s table” when we started attending functions as a couple. My husband Mark became a Jewish Studies teacher and from then on we were usually seated at “the frum table”. This was straightforward for him, but often left our companions lost for words when we made our introductions. They knew how to respond to Mark but “I’m a therapist specialising in addiction,” or ”I work with excluded families” was usually met with: “Oh.” It improved slightly when I started working in theatre, in that a new question was added. “So is that for women only?” “Sometimes.” “Oh.”
When I began performing comedy, I noticed a strange and interesting shift in the table-planning dynamics. We were now on what I would describe as “the diversity table”. This has nothing to do with those flexible little blighters who won Britain’s Got Talent years ago. It’s the table which seats the box-ticking guests such as their old uni friends, the non-Jewish neighbours, their kid’s sports coach and (apparently) the comedian. I’ve got to be honest: this table is way more fun.
For tour details: www.rachelcreeger.com