Life & Culture

The London club night offering a spectacle of queer Jewish joy

The over-the-top night 'leans in' to the British Jewish experience and is an affair even your bubbe and zayde will enjoy


From the sweltering dance floor of the Troxy in east London last Saturday, more than 2,000 sweaty club-goers danced the hora to the jaunty rhythm of the "Hava Nagila". In this latest iteration of the queer Jewish club night Butt Mitzvah, Jews and gentiles alike came together to celebrate Rosh Hashanah at an event that has been drawing guests of all ages and denominations since 2016.  

The name foretells the over-the-top vibe of the event, which is equal parts tongue-in-cheek, queer, and unapologetically Jewish. It is the brainchild of Josh Cole, who has been producing the London-based simcha several times a year since its inception. 

“There’s an endless supply of brilliant American Jewish comedic perspectives, and there isn’t really anything like that in the UK,” said Cole.

“With Butt Mitzvah, I was really keen to do something that leant into the British Jewish experience.” 

Cole sought to create an inclusive space for the many British Jews who “feel too Jewish in non-Jewish spaces and not Jewish enough in Jewish spaces,” as well as offer a point of entry for non-Jews to be able to engage with Judaism.

The result is one of the most welcoming, outlandish, light-hearted club nights I’ve ever attended.  

One of the ingenious elements of the event is Cole’s creation of a fictional Jewish family around which the night unfolds.

The Rimmers, a flamboyant parody of a north London Ashkenazi family, features comedian and actor Candy Gigi as raunchy bat mitzvah girl Becky Rimmer, producer and screenwriter Tom Joseph as nebbish father Mervyn, and performer and tech company founder Alex Eisenberg in drag as mother Gaye.

In addition to greeting guests as they arrive in the foyer, passing around bagels and trays of sliced apples, the family perform for the audience and give exaggerated speeches. Their presence subverts the format of a traditional club night, creating the sense that you’ve been personally invited to their bizarre family’s bat mitzvah celebration.  

The family brand, according to Eisenberg, is “lewd and crude and queer”. 

"I think we borrowed a little bit of that visibility from how America does it, and we’ve given it our own British vibe,” said Eisenberg. “Butt Mitzvah has helped people to connect to their Jewishness and find a different side to it.” 

Cole, who works as the head of comedy at BBC Studios, the broadcaster's commercial arm, knows that incisive humour often relies on cultural specificity, and the night’s razor-sharp references to distinctly British and Jewish touchstones, brought to life by the Rimmer family, attest to his comedic acumen.  

With lyrics written by Gigi, the family perform parody versions of popular songs like Kylie Minogue’s “Padam Padam”, changing the title lyrics to “Kedem” in reference to the kosher grape juice. In honour of the new year, they sang a Jewish take on "Auld Lang Syne", renamed Auld Lang Stein. Gigi then sang an impassioned, salacious version of Katy Perry’s “I Kissed A Girl”, but with a twist: “I Kissed A Goy.”  

The night also featured a performance from drag queen Ash Kenazi, complete with a smoke machine and stage pyrotechnics.

Cole managed to capitalise on a niche that London’s nightlife scene has been slow to fill, and the demand for an event like Butt Mitzvah hasn’t lessened in the years since its inception.  

“Judaism is offering this format of a bar mitzvah to a club night, and in a way it’s what some club nights really need because a lot of them can be very hostile and exclusive spaces, particularly in the gay and queer world,” said Eisenberg. 

Cole and Eisenberg are rightly proud to be part of such an inclusive club night event; Butt Mitzvah is a spectacle of queer Jewish joy, an oasis of radical acceptance.

Throughout the night I found myself frequently pausing to look around, to take in the campy costumes and the rotating clips of Orthodox Jews dancing at weddings and bar mitzvahs on the big screen, but also to marvel at the broad demographic of people in attendance. I have never been to a club event like Butt Mitzvah, where people of all ages, races, religions and sexualities mingle so respectfully in one common space.  

“People feel really comfortable at Butt Mitzvah,” said Eisenberg. “I think it’s the only club night where you can bring your grandparents and it can feel fun for them.” 

The event has played host to a string of celebrity guests, including Sir Ian McKellan, who is in his eighties, and Vanessa Feltz, who performed on the night. While Butt Mitzvah still bears the hallmarks of any other club night - the loud music, the bar queues, couples kissing on the dance floor – the beating heart of the event is the familial Jewishness so many of us instinctively recognise.  

As soon as I entered the Troxy, I ran into someone I knew from high school back in the suburbs of Chicago, and the encounter later struck me as symbolic of the eccentric, warm-hearted alchemy that is this event. I hadn’t seen him in six years, but together we danced and sang along to a live rendition of "Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu", a song we both grew up hearing in a synagogue 6,300km away.

Butt Mitzvah may have been created with British Jews in mind, but it felt a lot like home for the rest of us, too.  

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