Life & Culture

Snowflakes, lizards and baseball caps: Edinburgh Fringe round-up

There was a wide range of Jewish talent on show at this year's Edinburgh fringe, says Jane Prinsley


For Jews, Jew-ish and non-Jewss too, the Edinburgh Fringe was packed with world-class Jewish comedy and theatrical innovation, pushing new ideas, breaking boundaries and testing audiences. With more shows than ever and a huge range of  talent to choose from, I scratched the surface of some of the brightest Jewish acts in Edinburgh this August. 

Daniel Cainer’s Signs and Wonders was back for another toe tapping, feel-good year of reminiscent songs and cringy jokes. The audience lapped it up, singing along, swaying in unison and some even fell asleep. Cainer warmly admits "he’s carved a little nitch just this side of kitsch," but he’s a true performer, blessed with rabbinical charisma and nasal vocals to match. Another lunchtime comedy from a fellow Anglo Jewish comedian came from Rachel Creeger, the only Orthodox Jewish female comic in the UK. Her warmth exuded as she provided us with ample homely stories of her Jewish life, first as a daughter and now as a mother.

Political comedy came from Konstantin Kisin’s Orwell That Ends, which swung a free speech sledgehammer at the audience. Last year Kisin refused to sign a university safe space policy and has been dining out on his subsequent fame. Most comics at Fringe haven’t been able to talk about Jews without mentioning Corbyn and Kisin was no exception. Cheap Corbyn  jokes, a suggestion that being white is a physical disability, racist N-word jabs and Holocaust jokes all felt like they came straight out of 2005. Kisin is an antagonist, cocooned in his own version of a "safe space" which we can’t criticise without being called a snowflake, but still it was an intriguing hour. 

Snowflakes would have melted from the warm set that came straight from Israel in the form of Ofie Kariyo, Gill Rosenberg and David Kilimnick’s Boycotted: Comedy from Israel. The show opened with Ofir Kariyo kissing the Israeli flag and progressed into an hour of Jews doing comedy for Jews. In an ideal world, this wouldn’t strike me as extraordinary, but in an environment that can feel hostile to Jews and Israelis, it was welcome respite. I’ve found myself repeating many of the jokes from American-Israeli, Kilimnick, the rabbi everyone wants. Kilimnick’s jokes about yelling at the shuk and the high cost of living in Israel were niche enough to feel unique, while more accessible comedy about ‘undercover Jews’ hiding their Jewishness in baseball hats were appreciated by all. 

From across the pond, American Jewish comics impressed Edinburgh audiences. Daniel Lobell’s Tipping the Scale was a personal tale of weight loss which made light stuff of heavy material. But it was Jena Friedman’s Miscarriage of Justice that blew me away. Her razor-sharp set toed the line of acceptability as she mined US politics, taking aim at Nazis, Jesus, Trump and Epstein, to name a few. There were walkouts, but that’s how Friedman knows she’s telling the right jokes. Never quite sure when she is serious, Friedman’s deadpan jokes about miscarriages and menstruating were mixed with musings on the KKK and personal connections to the Pittsburgh Synagogue. Her set served as a reminder that for women, minorities and just about everyone in Trump’s America, the personal is always political and we must laugh or else we’d have to cry.

Beyond comedy, Marlon Solomon returned with his amped up PowerPoint lecture, Conspiracy: A Lizard’s Tale. As antisemitism has reared its ugly head higher, so Solomon’s show has sunk its teeth deeper into  vitriolic racially motivated online hate. Solomon offered his audience a far clearer insight into antisemitism than any article, book or thesis I’ve read. Moreover, Solomon made great entertainment of his often personal and always meticulously researched account of conspiracy theories. He debunked conspiracy theories, starting with The Protocols of The Elders Of Zion, the original fake news, and swiftly moved on through pre-war Germany, to the present day. After almost five years of antisemitism in the headlines, Solomon’s educational show should be required viewing for every member of the Labour Party. It has already been performed in parliament and after members of Momentum saw it, they created a viral video entitled ‘Have you heard the one about the lizard?’ Solomon, the JLM and Momentum have collaborated to protest about David Icke’s antisemitism. Thus, A Lizard’s Tale is political Fringe theatre at its best, making tangible change in the world it seeks to improve. 

Jewish playwrights found success and Michelle Kholos Brooks' bold new play, Hitler’s Tasters, was one of the hottest tickets in town. ‘Would you rather sleep with the Führer or Frank Sinatra?’ asks one of the three adolescent girls who tested Hitler’s food for poison. Romance, frustration and an overwhelming sense of their own mortality made the girls likeable whilst contemporary direction and the use of indie-pop songs, iPhones and bullyish boy talk made them completely plausible as a gaggle of high school girls. Indeed, this might be a historical story, but it was the freshest drama I saw all Fringe. Kholos Brooks’ play is a dark comedy that pushes for shock factor, but Hitler’s Tasters was more than a game of boundaries; it was packed with dangerous charm. With its nuanced portrayal of radicalisation, idolatry and the banality of evil, perhaps it will become a modern Fringe classic, providing a strong message for our times.

Daniel Cainer 3 star

Rachel Creeger 4 stars

Konstantin Kisin 2 stars

Boycotted: Comedy from Israel 3 stars

Daniel Lobell 4 stars 

Jena Friedman 5 stars

Conspiracy: Lizards Tale 4 stars

Hitler’s Tasters 5 stars

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