Life & Culture

The prankster gets personal

At last comic Simon Brodkin can be openly Jewish, he tells Nicole Lampert


Simon Brodkin’s first antisemitic social media pile- on came thanks to the former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke.
The white supremacist was furious that the British comic and professional prankster had played a trick on Donald Trump. In 2016, Brodkin rolled dozens of swastika-emblazoned golf balls towards the then presidential hopeful at the Trump golf club at Turnberry.
The ex-KKK leader then tweeted a link to the stunt putting Brodkin’s name inside three brackets, a white supremacist antisemitic signal to denote a Jewish person. The pile-on included comments from dozens of neo-Nazis who suggested the comic should be gassed.
It was the first time Brodkin realised that however much he hid behind his pranks and his comedy characters — South London geezer Lee Nelson being his most famous — antisemites would always target him for being a Jew.
Undaunted though, he continued his pranks. (Memorably, in 2017 he gave Theresa May her P45 at the 2017 Tory party conference.) A few years later, dipping his toe into more traditional stand up as himself, he broached the subject of antisemitism and Corbyn. A Corbynite took umbrage, wrote about it on Twitter, and he got a second batch of hateful messages online; the antisemitic fury of the far left mirroring that of the far right.
He realises there is no point hiding. So he’s talking about his Judaism in what he says is his most personal show yet, Simon Brodkin: Screwed Up, which premieres at the Edinburgh Festival from 3 August.
“I didn’t ever think that I would talk about being Jewish on stage — for too long it was something I kept my head down about,” admits the 44-year-old father-of-two. “But then I realised that if I wanted to do stand up as me, not as one of my characters, it was something I had to do. I was getting so much hate anyway that I thought to myself, ‘what am I doing here?’. I realised I needed to talk about it all; starting with my relatives escaping from Russia and Nazi Germany.”
Unlike Jewish comics in America who have put their Judaism at the vanguard of their jokes, here, Brodkin acknowledges, most Jews keep quiet about it.
“I think it probably stems from our relatives — almost all of us come from people who have had to flee from somewhere,” he says. “My grandparents escaped from Nazi Germany so they were just grateful to have somewhere they could leave freely. It’s no surprise their instinct was to keep their heads down. Shut up. Everyone changed their name — that’s in my act — there was no pride. The attitude was, we’ve survived, let’s keep schtum because sadly we all know too often about what happens when you put your head above the parapet — it gets kicked in.
“Speaking about Judaism can get us into trouble so the vibe was don’t say anything. In America, Jews were always much more part of the fabric of the society because almost everyone was an immigrant — no one was sticking out.
“But when I decided to start doing a more personal stand up — being there as me, not a character — I realised that this is a big part of who I am and my attitude about keeping my head down has changed.
“The best type of stand up is always the personal and this is absolutely my most personal show. I was worried about how people would react when I first started talking about this stuff but the response was great.” Antisemitism and Corbyn make it in there: “It’s the frustration of saying, ‘Trust us, this guy is not a fan of Jews’ and being told by everyone, ‘No, no, no you are wrong. We know. We know antisemitism more than Jewish people’,” he sighs.
But there are also more mundane elements from the early life of the Hampstead Garden Suburb lifetime resident who originally trained to be a doctor but gave it up to become a comic.
“I talk about my barmitzvah and having to sing these crazy songs from the Torah and how, because they are in Hebrew no one spots how crazy they are,” he laughs. “So, no one spots the 13-year-old singing about Lot being visited by the angels in Sodom and Gomorrah and how everyone wants to shag the angels but Lot says: ‘You can’t do that. You can sleep with my two daughters instead.’ I don’t know why people make stuff up about the Jews when all they need to do is read our holy book.
“I also talk a lot about Zelensky and the things we have in common. We both worked in comedy. Both changed careers. He’s obviously let down his mother a little bit less than me, though.”
Simon will also speak about a new diagnosis of ADHD. In the last few years he discovered he had the condition, which can cause people to have trouble concentrating. Getting the diagnosis helped him make sense of his life.
“Looking back, I was an open and shut case: I always felt I wasn’t quite wired up right. At school I was sent out of every lesson, I always struggled to concentrate but no one even considered it,” he says. “My pranks, some stuff that is a bit too rude to be talking about in a lovely JC article, all of that, probably stem from the ADHD. I was beginning to find life quite difficult. It felt like I had post-it notes everywhere with lists of things to do and none of them were getting done. There was too much going on. I was finding it hard to start tasks, end tasks and, I’ll be honest, I wasn’t great in the middle of the tasks.
“What I discovered is with ADHD, amongst other things, we are lacking a reward system. We are constantly looking for a rush which is probably why I do a lot the stunts but also a lot of sport. The stand up is another way of keeping that brain stimulated — so of course I talk about the ADHD in the show.
“Did you know the treatment for ADHD is amphetamines? It has the opposite effect to the one it has on everyone else — it calms the brain down which shows how weird we are.
“As I say in my show, if you are wondering whether you have ADHD, snort a line of amphetamines. If it makes you sleepy, you either have ADHD or a rubbish dealer.”
The Edinburgh Festival is where he, as Lee Nelson, was first discovered. And now he is looking forward to audiences discovering the real Simon Brodkin. “It’s called Screwed Up because in many ways I am a screw up,” he says.
“I’m opening myself up because I think the more personal you go as a comic, the better. I hope people like it.”

Simon Brodkin’s show, Screwed Up, is at the Pleasance Courtyard, Cabaret Bar, August 3 to 27 (excl 15th) at 9.40pm.
More info and tickets available at

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