Ivor Dembina's guide to Jewish humour
A familiar face on the circuit now for nearly 30 years, Ivor Dembina has a run of shows in Hampstead and Stoke Newington called Old Jewish Jokes. Here's Ivor on what defines Jewish comedy and what it means to him
"Old Jewish Jokes" was a originally a 20-minute curtain raiser to my ostensibly more serious "This is Not a Subject for Comedy" – a one-hour solo show about Israel, Palestine and the Jews. The idea was to offer a warm-hearted sweetener to the more challenging subject of ethnic conflict.
However, in the course of doing my jokey prelude, I discovered that many of the issues around Jewish identity were already there in these famous old traditional gags. At the same time, I looked into of my own experience of being a Jewish comic and came up with a truth-based narrative that the old jokes could be woven into.
The result is another "story with jokes" in its own right – one that reveals my affection for Jewish humour and my fascination with the Jewish predicament; feeling different, but wanting to be treated the same.
Jewish humour is above all a flavour. Many of the best jokes have little or no "Jewish" content but succeed because of nuance and delivery.
You can try it yourself. Take the following short joke:
"An old couple are at home, she's up in the bedroom and he's downstairs in the kitchen.
She calls out: 'Peter, will you please come upstairs and make love to me!'
And Peter says, 'Sorry darling, I'm afraid I can't manage both.'"
Now, change the name Peter to Harry and replace the exclamation mark with a question mark.
Finally, replace ''Sorry darling, I'm afraid' to 'Leave me alone'.
Deliver the amended joke in a gentle sing-song tone, making sure you raise your shoulders slightly and screw up your eyes on the old man's response. And bang, you have a Jewish joke.
There's a knowing weariness to Jewish comedy that honestly reflects my own attitude to the comedy business, bumping around its lower echelons for nearly 30 years. When I'm performing the show I feel that my past and present have arrived at some kind of meeting point and I can sense the audience recognising it. It's a very satisfying feeling.
Often, the high point of the show is when I ask the audience to join in and start telling their own favourite Jewish gags. To get to the point where there's a room for of people, Jews and non-Jews laughing at a shared Jewish shtick is quite liberating and joyful. Jews, not just laughing at themselves but allowing others to laugh at them. I tell you bubeleh It doesn't happen very often.
• Click here for the full details of Old Jewish Jokes shows at The Alice House (Hamsptead) and Ryan's Bar (Stokey).
• He also runs drop-in sessions for anyone interested in learning more about stand-up, details here.
• Finally, Ivor has a one-off performance of his highly recommended show This Is Not A Subject For Comedy on October 11, details here.