JEWELSH is my third Edinburgh Festival show. The first one, It Wasn't Me It Was Bennett Arron was based on my experiences of Identity Theft and resulted in Channel 4 commissioning me to make a documentary on the subject (in which I was arrested for stealing the identity of the Home Secretary).
The second show, Bennett Arron Has Had Enough, dealt with my slight irritation of having my first novel, a romantic comedy, rejected by publishers on the grounds that I am... a man! Oh the shame.
This show, JEWELSH, is based on the fact that, even though I've talked about it since I first started as a comedian, audiences rarely believe I'm both Jewish and Welsh. They think I'm just doing it as a joke. Can you imagine, going on stage and just doing something as a joke? I am, of course, genuinely both Jewish and Welsh.
The main problem with being Jewish and Welsh is you're never quite sure why you're being beaten up. I was doing a gig in the north of England a while ago and a bloke came up to me afterwards and said; "That's really funny pretending to be Jewish..." I was just about to correct him when he carried on and said, "My mate was actually getting really wound up because he doesn't like the Jewish and he was going to come over and punch you." Now I had a couple of options, and one of them wasn't to correct his grammar. (If you want to know what happened, you'll have to see the show).
But even when people do believe I am both Jewish and Welsh I am asked some odd questions like: "So are you half Jewish and half Welsh or is it the other way around?" The thing is I am 100% both. My parents are both Jewish and I was born and bred - or lava bread - in Wales. I am actually from a very religious background. My grandparents actually came from Lithuania. In fact my Grandmother was smuggled onto a ship in the early 1900s when she was very young to escape the Pogroms in Russia which eventually killed over 2000 Jews. Anyway, this ship stopped in Port Talbot, south Wales - because they thought it was New York. I'm not sure when they found out the truth. I don't know if they ever did.
Anyway, my grandparents lived there and as I mentioned they were very orthodox. I don't know if you know much about religious Jews but they are not allowed to work on the Sabbath (Saturday). No work at all. They couldn't even light their fire in the house as lighting a match constitutes work as you are creating a flame. So each family had someone who would kindly go every Saturday to light their fires. The person who lit my grandparents fire was a young boy who was the son of the local baker. He was Anthony Hopkins. Yes, Anthony Hopkins lit my grandparents' fire. (Which was going to be the title of the show!)
At that time there was a large Jewish community in Port Talbot but by the time I was born my family was the only Jewish family there. However, we never encountered any anti-Semitism - apart from the occasional jocular; "Your people killed our Lord." I was bullied a bit at school however, but that was more to do with being short and fat than Jewish. By the way, you know you are told the most ridiculous things about bullies. You're told that if you stand up to them, they run away. No they don't. They punch you until you pass out. Hence the term; 'bully'.
Talking about school, I was recently asked by the BBC to make a documentary about the history of my family and the decline of Jews in Wales. As there was little chance of my getting arrested this time, I accepted. Part of the programme, which is due on air sometime this summer, saw me return to Port Talbot and perform this JEWELSH show in front of old school friends - most of whom I hadn't since I was 18. I recognised almost everyone in the audience; the prefects, The Bully (he hadn't aged well, I could have him now), The Head Girl (I won't tell you how should got that nickname...)
What was quite funny was that I only remembered a few of them by their school nickname - some of which weren't flattering and some of which just sounded bizarre. It's difficult going to the bar and saying, to a grown adult, something like: "Do you want a pint, Slugs?"
One other person who came to the show, and whom I was delighted to see, was my ex drama teacher. He had always encouraged me to venture into acting and performing - so he's the one my parents have to blame. He also taught Michael Sheen, who went to my school, and he directed Michael and I in a school play together. Funnily enough a couple of years ago Michael Sheen and I acted together again in a film called; Dead Long Enough. What do you mean you've never heard of it?! It's the one in which he doesn't do an impression. To be fair I think it's unlikely he has it on his CV. Although I have it on mine. In capital letters.
Coincidentally the room in which I performed my show was called the Michael Sheen Room and there is a rumour going around that they want to rename Port Talbot 'Port Sheen'. Although to be fair, I just started that rumour.
One thing I do remember from that evening was, whilst having a drink afterwards, I asked my ex-schoolmates what they remembered about my being the only Jewish person in the school. Most of them remembered the same thing - that I was asked to play Shylock the Money Lender in the school play. Quite true. Unfortunately the play was Peter Pan.
So what is JEWELSH actually about? Well, apart from discussing both the differences and similarities of being Jewish and Welsh (in a hilarious manner) it also touches on anti-Semitism, religion, atheism, stolen dogs, massages, losing your virginity and Super Heroes. This, together with the fact the show has been recommended by Time Out, has had four star reviews and been described as "wonderful... note perfect" is, perhaps, a reason to pop along and see it. I'm next performing it at the Soho Theatre in London on 6 July.
See you there.
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