Life & Culture

The stand-up undergoing another comic revinvention

Comedian Mark Maier’s new short film is inspired by Alan Bennett’s monologues and set in a synagogue. Meet a performer whose career has taken a few unexpected turns


I was just in the middle of drawing the right ear of a dog,” says award-winning comedian Mark Maier as he picks up the phone.

This isn’t the start of a joke, but, in fact, sketching ears, paws, snouts and tails is what Maier now spends much of his time doing.

When gigs were cancelled during lockdown, Maier was fortunate that an art foundation course he had done in the early 1980s allowed him to become a portrait artist of both four-legged and two-legged friends.

It means that Maier now belongs to a growing club of multi-hyphenates, but, using a convenient metaphor, he insists that being an artist is not actually a big departure from being a comedian. “With both of them, the creative process starts with a blank canvas.

“Honing a joke and perfecting a drawing are similar.”

As is the sense of gratification he enjoys when both are well received. “In comedy, when you have an idea you have worked on and the audience likes it, it gives you such a great feeling.

I get the same feeling from a client’s reaction when I give them a drawing.”
Covid was the catalyst for another creative outlet — film-making.

It started with a comedy sketch, à la Candid Camera, called 2 Meeters, where Maier, carrying a two-metre ruler, approaches unsuspecting — and usually irritated — passers-by, reprimanding the ones who weren’t social distancing.

“I was interested in the whole Covid thing and amused by the obsession of being two metres apart."

The fascination with Covid led to a bigger project — albeit another short film. Written by Maier and directed by friend and fellow Jewish comedian Joe Bor, The Silent Treatment stars Andy Linden, best known for playing Mundungus Fletcher in the Harry Potter films.

“I had an idea about an old Jewish man. He is oblivious to Covid because he is indoors for a year looking after his wife, who has dementia,” says Maier.

“After she dies, he goes to the shops, finds out about Covid and starts talking to God.”

Deciding later that a Covid storyline “had a shelf-life”, he took out the C-word and changed the plot to make the film more “timeless”.

The result is a poignant tragicomedy. There is still the elderly Jewish man, but instead of going to the shops, he goes to synagogue on his late wife’s yahrezeit to confide in his Maker.

“I’ve always been a fan of Alan Bennett, so I wanted to write a monologue in that kind of style. It starts quite chatty and then there is an edge to it.”

The low-key drama has no doubt given Maier the feeling of satisfaction he thrives on after being nominated for a number of prestigious awards.

Later this year, Maier will find out if it has been nominated for a Bafta. “That would be wonderful”, he says, sounding almost reluctant to hope too much.

Comedy success hasn’t been a straight run for Maier, who has had several stop-starts since he began his “observational Jewish shtick” in the 1980s. But at every stop, he has managed to start again by adding a different comedic string to his bow.

One of these was writing pantomime with Jewish comedy buddy Bennett Arron. Shminderella, a Jewish take on the traditional fairytale, comes complete with ugly sisters Shmeryl and Traifee, who spend most of their time in Brent Cross.

“I know I’m biased, but it went down incredibly well,” says Maier, who has already staged the panto in several small venues. He is now looking for funding to take it to larger audiences.

Film-maker, playwright and artist — Maier can stake a claim to all of these, but the comedy is never far below the surface.

Just before heading back to his easel, Maier gives me a potted— if a little tongue-in-cheek— biography. “I’m approaching a significant birthday this year. That’s right. I’m going to be 30."

He is from Newcastle, lives in Muswell Hill, with his wife, Jane, and has “three kids. One of each.”

A bit of back-pedalling quickly follows as the comedian who, after 40 years of making people laugh, concedes: “I’m probably not allowed to say that anymore.”

‘The Silent Treatment’ is available to stream.

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive