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Me? Well, I am a good Jewish joker

Going on past evidence, I'm quietly confident, when it comes to making a good Jewish joke, I'm the person you'd want to listen to. And there, in essence, is what makes a good Jewish joke. In my opinion, Jewish humour is firmly rooted in a deep-seated insecurity.

    Laugh lines: Maier is an inveterate Jewish worrier
    Laugh lines: Maier is an inveterate Jewish worrier

    The Jewish Chronicle asked me: "What makes a good Jewish joke?" I do. At least I think I do. When I say, "I think I do", what I actually mean is, going on past evidence, I'm quietly confident, when it comes to making a good Jewish joke, I'm the person you'd want to listen to.

    And there, in essence, is what makes a good Jewish joke. In my opinion, Jewish humour is firmly rooted in a deep-seated insecurity.

    I've performed my brand of Jewish stand-up comedy around the world. From barmitzvahs in Bushey to fund raisers in Cape Town. I won the title ''Jewish Performer Of the Year'' at the London Palladium and once performed to 6,000 Jews at Wembley Arena.

    Yet, in spite of all of these achievements, I'm still an anxious comic. Is the subject matter accessible? Am I simply perpetuating a stereotype? Will anybody be offended? Does Jackie Mason do a similar routine? Do I care if Jackie Mason does a similar routine? Does Jackie Mason have lawyers who'll sue me over the routine? Why am I obsessing about Jackie Mason?

    I remember, about five years ago, performing a one-man show at the Radlett Centre. I have to admit that I had the entire audience in the palm of my hand. I say entire; there was one chap on the front row who hadn't chuckled, let alone, cracked a smile throughout the evening. He became my focus. My target. My personal challenge.

    Photograph by Steve Best
    Photograph by Steve Best

    It didn't matter at all that 99 per cent of the room were obviously enjoying my jokes. He bothered me. What was it that this person didn't like? The subject matter? The way I looked? The way I spoke? Or the fact that I'd heard Radlett had been the subject of a documentary on wife-swapping? I made it clear, Jews weren't involved. Too much to organise: ''Am I coming to you? Are you coming to me? Can we split the cost of a cab?'' Still nothing. After about 40 minutes, I'd had enough. I asked the crew to put on the house lights. You can imagine my relief when I saw the man in question was actually fast asleep.

    Life experiences have certainly shaped my humour. The more I see the ways we, as Jewish people, interact with one another, the more I - fortunately - find funny.

    There's a delightful positive negativity about us as a people. Woody Allen once said: "I don't know if there's an afterlife. But just in case, I'm taking a spare change of underwear." In the face of death, he still worries about his pants.

    "See this pocket watch? My grandfather, on his death bed, sold me this watch", to quote another gem from the master of stand-up comedy.

    Over the years, I've learned to develop a self-effacing style of comedy that I find works so much better for my shows for a Jewish audience than it does for a non-Jewish one.

    I'm making a very broad generalisation here but, in my experience, non-Jewish audiences like to see a bit more bluff and bravado, sway and swagger, puffing of the chest, and as I don't possess much of a chest, (more mid-life crisis man boobs), I definitely feel much more at home performing to Jewish people.

    The first time I mentioned I was Jewish on stage was early on in my career and I didn't have the "comedy tools" to deal with what followed. A man, possibly Neanderthal, from the back of this bear pit of a comedy club yelled, "Why don't you **** off back home to Hampstead mate!"

    I was frozen to the spot. I mumbled something about him being a Nazi and skulked off stage to an uncomfortable silence. If only I'd had the confidence to throw my hands up in the air and reply, "Hampstead! You think I can afford to live in Hampstead? Have you seen the prices?" That's what is known as positive negativity.

    On June 13, I will be performing all the best bits from my Jewish shows at the Duchess Theatre in London. Of course I'll be anxious. Anxious it's a sell-out. Anxious that people won't mind - and blurt it out - if they've heard some of my jokes before. Anxious the seating is comfortable and the air-conditioning is working and that it's not too hot and it's not too cold.

    I'll be anxious. Hence Mark Maier's Greatest Schvitz.

    From our inability to order what's on the menu at a restaurant, to our inability to operate heavy machinery, I'm planning to leave no stone unturned. I'll discuss how it's possible everyone found trouble parking, to where is still open to eat after the show.

    Any personality traits, foibles or character quirks that you identify with in this show are entirely deliberate.

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