Can Nazis ever be funny?


Three years ago on an especially wet afternoon in Norfolk I was sat around with two cousins. We were laughing and joking about occupations that were going out of fashion. Someone mentioned Nazi hunting and a light went on in my brain. I may even have raised a finger as if to say, "watch this space". Rather pompous, but there you go.

For my own amusement, I created a website about a Dunstable-based Nazi Hunter called Alan Stoob. Somehow, the idea of an elderly man chasing Nazi war criminals across the plains of Bedfordshire amused me. Next, I began tweeting in character. Fairly quickly I gathered a few thousand followers. I was having immense fun, being wooed by celebrities and receiving all kinds of interesting and curious offers. But I knew I was wasting my time if there was no end product. I began writing a book - How to Hunt Nazis – but quickly stopped. Who would want to read such a thing? I asked my partner for her take. "Why not a diary," she replied. A second light went on in my brain.

Writing such material for spoof-averse TV is difficult but Twitter is a meritocracy. If you've got a funny bone, people will follow, retweet and recommend you. From the off, people got the joke and engaged with my character @nazihunteralan. In an often-spiky environment, Alan is seen as an avuncular, non-threatening presence on account of his age (77 and counting). Through Twitter, I was able to develop the character and some of the threads and tropes that would later occupy the book: Stoob has been asked to hunt Nazis in Bedfordshire at the behest of Simon Wiesenthal; he is not himself Jewish and this bothers him; his wife had an affair with Henry Cooper in the 1960s; his 42-year-old son still lives at home After two months of tweeting in character, I began writing in earnest.

How does one approach Nazism in an "amusing" way? Can Nazis ever be a comfortable source of comedy? Perhaps there is a certain catharsis to be had in cutting the legs off the devil. In the same way that Borat's antisemitism was in fact portrayed by a Jew - Sacha Baron Cohen – so I am Jewish. Not that I would compare the two. The sparing references to antisemitism in my book come from cartoonish Nazis. But could I have written it 30 years ago? I doubt it (not least because I was only 11).

An early decision I made was to donate 10 per cent of my royalties to the Simon Wiesenthal Centre should the book be published. This wasn't merely a gesture to get people onside. Aged 19, and while visiting relatives in Israel, I read Wiesenthal's book, Justice not Vengeance. It had a profound effect on me. My own family had also suffered antisemitism. Growing up, I was vaguely aware of a dark tale about my grandmother, a beautiful, tough, loving but also deeply anxious woman. Eventually, I learned about the persecution the family suffered during the Ukraine's pogroms of 1919, how she fled their home in the dead of night, how she was made to hide in a stranger's bed when soldiers came looking and how she remained terrified of bracken, a legacy of her midnight flight through the forest. None of this protects me against criticism, of course. I daresay there will be some who will choose to be offended by the book because of the subject matter. That is their privilege but it doesn't mean their offence is necessarily valid. Was anyone upset by 'Allo 'Allo? Perhaps, but only because it was awful.

I had a clear vision of how the book should play itself out. After all, I'd already fleshed out the character on Twitter. Alan was hunting Nazis in Bedfordshire ("the new Paraguay"). Why were there Nazis in Bedfordshire? I concocted a back-story about underground tunnels. Early in the piece, I began tweeting with my agent. He didn't know I was Stoob but he followed back and clearly enjoyed the exchanges. When I sent him the manuscript he claimed he nearly fell off his chair, with a swear word thrown in for good measure.

A few months later, he called me. "So, anyway Hodder & Stoughton have agreed to buy the book and…" In true EastEnders style I asked him to repeat what he'd said. A book deal. With a major publisher. The moment every writer dreams of.

I am hardly in a position to impart wisdom, having only recently seen my debut novel published. But if I have learnt anything it is that fortune favours the tenacious.

If you want to break into comedy or writing or even astronautism you have to stick at it Today, competition is greater than ever to make it into the creative arts, but there are also more channels and outlets for the do-it-yourself artist. It's like punk, only with less spitting.

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