Katie Price

Jewish comics now find that the joke is on us

I was met with a deafening silence when I highlighted an awful message from a promoter


stage with microphone and stool illuminated by a spotlight with the word COMEDY on a red neon lamp and brick wall. . space for text. 3d render

July 25, 2022 09:45

Trust me, I’m equally disappointed it’s this Katie Price. But unlike celebrity Katie Price, I am openly gay AND Jewish, or you could say Shabbats for the other team.

In the three-ish years that I’ve been doing stand-up, I’ve probably said these two lines more than 1,000 times. It’s my opening joke and aims to prepare the audience for what they’re about to hear for the next 19-and-a-half minutes.

As a comedian, you can either bring the audience into your world or reflect their world at them. As a Jewish lesbian (or “jesbian” to close friends and any of the Haim sisters), the latter isn’t usually an option, so I decided to follow the well-trodden path of British comedy and paint a vivid picture for audiences of the funny, eclectic, complicated Jewish world I inhabit.

I also decided to discuss how this relates to my lesbian identity and the interesting situations this can generate. Navigating the British comedy landscape, performing at church halls, regional theatres and comedy clubs across the UK, I learnt that if I stayed true to myself and my material and delivered it with confidence, anyone whose worldview wasn’t governed by dormant antisemitism and homophobia (I find, a lot like vomiting and diarrhoea, these two gems tend to go together) would enjoy my material and express that through the only currency I value, laughter. (I do, obviously, accept financial currency for gigs, kindly reabsorbed by the train operators).

I was slowly climbing the British comedy circuit, getting agent representation and starting to perform at bigger gigs where payment was laughter, plus a fee with a post-travel profit. I was learning the art of bringing the audience into my world in a way that was accessible yet allowed me to stay true to myself. All was going to plan — until something started happening, something quite intangible at first. Something about being Jewish.

A fellow comic from a waspish background mentioned a brilliant gig she’d done near Manchester to a large, warm audience, where she was well looked after by the compère and venue staff. The promoter ran a chain of comedy clubs in the north of England. She passed on his details and suggested I get in touch for a trial, so I sent him my video and usual spiel of accolades and awaited his response. Within an hour, I received this: “Thank you for your clip, Katie. I personally enjoyed your comedy but reckon it is too specialised for my seaside audience of pensioners! We are no way as cosmopolitan as London and do not have a Jewish community here, so some of your clever material would miss the mark. Really sorry to disappoint.”

Whilst not violently antisemitic to the point of saying, “I won’t book you because my audiences loathe Jews”, it’s pretty obviously implying that the audience wouldn’t enjoy a comedy night with an openly Jewish act on the bill. (I shan’t dwell on the antisemitic iceberg of “cosmopolitan” in this context. I’m on a word count and you can imagine my point).

Receiving this email was a punch to the stomach. It labelled me “liberal metropolitan elite”, inaccessible anywhere outside of north London’s Borscht Belt and, by virtue of our respective positions within the industry, rendered me unable to prove the promoter wrong on stage, as he holds the keys to one of Britain’s biggest club chains.

I decided on a suitably Gen Z outlet for my frustration: social media. I posted a screenshot of the email on my Instagram account, without naming the club. What happened next was an archetypical #Jewsdontcount moment. (Baddiel to the rescue, yet again.) Near silence.

A few non-Jewish comedians messaged me privately, but these could be counted on one hand. Numerous other Jewish comics have had similar experiences. “Yid” is still a fairly common jeer, with one Jewish comedy peer mentioning he was heckled with this term to cheers from the audience, and gained barely any traction with a tweet describing the events.

I’d love to rely on my fellow comedians to publicly condemn this racism when they see it or hear about it. I’d love to not have to convince people that antisemitism is alive and kicking. I’d love not to have to sit through another non-Jewish comedian explaining how he was “just trying to be nice”. I’d love for Jews to count.

I also can’t help but imagine how the comedy community might rally around me, had this promoter decided not to book me based upon my sexuality. I’d expect significantly more outrage online as comics of all levels would agree that this sort of discrimination had no place in our industry.

I’ll keep delivering “Shabbat’s for the other team” to audiences across the country. I’ll keep exposing antisemitism in comedy where I see it. There are some phenomenal Jewish comedians in the UK and, kicking, kvetching and screaming, we’ll force the comedy establishment to judge us for our jokes, not our perceived “specialism”.

Oy Gay! The Queer Jewish Comedy Show, is on at the Laughing Horse @Bar 5o in Edinburgh from 4-16 August

She also appears monthly at OutSavvy - Lez Misérables Tickets, Thursday 8th September 2022 at 07:30 PM - London | OutSavvy

July 25, 2022 09:45

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