Menier Chocolate Factory
Is it a man, is it Ben Elton, is it Steven Spielberg? No it’s “archetypal Jew” Alan Yentob. Sorry, I mean David Baddiel. They all look the same, more or less — at least to archetypal Gentiles such as Andrew Lloyd Webber who, according to Baddiel, still mixes up the two comedians even after writing a musical with one of them (Elton).
For his often confessional and very funny first return to stand-up in 16 years, Baddiel’s chosen subject is the weirdness of being in conversation with an often less-than-loving public, but also how fame imposes on the famous a public identity over which they have no control.
Though he admits he’s not quite as famous as he was in the heady days of co-hosting Fantasy Football with Frank Skinner — or before that when he and Robert Newman filled Wembley Arena by turning comedy into the new rock ’n’ roll (thankfully, it has since turned back) — the slight dimming of Baddiel’s star wattage serves this show well. There’s a sense here that distance has given the comedian a perspective on fame that may not have been possible were he still in its full glare. And he’s probably better company for it.
Scrolling down his iPhone, the affable, self-deprecating Baddiel reveals the contrasts in a life that includes hobnobbing with other stars and, while on holiday in Cornwall, being invited by a complete stranger to have an intimate chat in an Aldi car park.He scrolls through tweets from trolls whose insults he takes on his bearded chin with equanimity. Some of them hurt, he admits. Though most, even the antisemitic ones, can be dismissed as the ravings of the bonkers.
And it’s this response to his Jewishness that, to a large extent, lies at the heart of Baddiel’s show. For Fame is not just about what it’s like to be famous. It’s about what it’s like to be famous and Jewish, or, to give the show it’s full alternative title, “What It’s Like To Be Famous and Jewish in Britain And Also A Former Pupil at North West London Jewish Day School.” It was at the school open day that Baddiel was told that the world would never be rid of people who hate Jews.
Part of Baddiel’s cleverness is that he projects his Jewishness in such a casual, matter-of-fact way. It makes those who make snide reference to his ethnicity — his “north London tones” as one national paper described his accent — look primitive by comparison. On another level, the show feels like therapy.
The laddish/Jewish archetype which has arisen mostly out of Baddiel just being himself has led to some excruciating moments.
Some are bravely revisited here, which might be a way of exorcising him of their horror. For example, a live TV interview with Jonathan Ross and a meteorologist, during which Baddiel meant to say he was adopting the role of a climate change sceptic but somehow said he was there as a Holocaust denier.
How could a Jew live with the memory? Thankfully, he has put that moment, and many others into an insightful, self-deprecating return to the stage.