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That's Entertainment

by: Cara Wides - Last updated: 2007-08-01

Saul Reichlin

Saul Reichlin

Cara Wides went to the London Jewish Cultural Centre to experience an evening of 'That's Entertainment' featuring a plethora of Jewish peformers offering music and comedy as well as a discussion about Jewish showbiz.

The crowd at the London Jewish Cultural Centre’s ‘That’s Entertainment’ evening of Jewish performers expected a night of raucous laughter.

As one artiste on the bill, actor Saul Reichlin, told the audience: "As Jews we are lucky to have such a good heritage of humour, we have always had the ability to laugh at ourselves."

Reichlin was performing a slot alongside Miriam Elia, who won a BBC new talent competition, netting her her own BBC Radio 7 show.

The third act was singer-songwriter Daliah Sherrington, a pre-Raphaelite vision with long curly hair and a flowing orange dress. Oh, and a not-so-pre-Raphaelite guitar.

Reichlin is probably the most famous, his one-man-show about the Yiddish storyteller Sholom Aleichem played in 35 cities around the world.

Aleichem was a nineteenth century Ukrainian, who wrote tales about the colourful characters of the stetl, including the story behind 'Fiddler on the Roof'.

At the LJCC Reichlin performed extracts from the show packed with traditional folktalesy humour. His sketches had Jewish characters talking in thick Eastern European accents, making lots of hand gestures and doing nebbishe things, such as being guilt tripped into buying dozens of pairs unneeded socks from a pedlar.

Reichlin also included anecdotes about modern life; talking of when he bumped into comedian Jackie Mason dining with three rabbis in a New York café. "Mason, who is also a rabbi, gestured at the plate in front of him piled with bacon, explaining "I’m on the Atkins diet." Reichlin said.

He also talked about seeing a show by the Bucharest Jewish Theatre Group, while in Romania. Watching them act in Yiddish, he commented to his friend that he didn’t realise there were so many Jews in Bucharest. "See that man second from the end, he’s the Jew. For the others this is just an opportunity to be involved in theatre," his friend replied.

The audience chucked over Reichlin’s story of performing his play about Sholom Aleichem at the home of the infamous New York madam Xaviera Hollander, in Amsterdam.  On the night, Hollander offered the crowd options: “We now have Sholom Alchiem and massage,” - Reichlin had to insist the massage only commenced when he was finished performing.

24-year-old comedian Miriam Elia provided a more contemporary humour; her only references to Judaism were about situations that arise for a Jew living in a secular society, such as non-Jews’ strange ideas about Israel. When not telling jokes, Elia is a Royal College of Art- trained graphic designer. At the LJCC Elia tested material for her stint at the upcoming Edinburgh Festival, and afterwards explained she tries to move away from conventional Jewish comedy.

‘I don’t tell mother-in-law jokes, I don’t pay much attention to whether my crowd is Jewish or non-Jewish,” she said, adding: “I don’t feel the traditional kind of Jewish humour is relevant to me; I live in Muswell Hill, not the ghetto.”

Indeed, Elia’s biggest influence is Tony Hancock, the British comedian popular in the ‘50s and ‘60s. “I wanted to be a comedian since I was a kid and listened to Hancock’s Half Hour - he reinvented comedy,” she revealed. When asked by an audience member which Jewish stand-ups have inspired her, Elia said: “I don’t pay attention to whether someone’s Jewish or not. My
mother does, but not me.”

Dalia Sherrington professed to a similar life-long attachment to her craft: “I’ve been singing since the day I was born.”

She beautifully performed emotional ballads on her guitar, about relationships failing, time passing,being ‘shot through with pain’. A few alta kakas in the crowd looked a bit shocked by her passionate expressive singing, which isn’t surprising as one could imaging Sherrington performing to a crowd of rockers in a darkened bar.

Sherrington commented on how performers like herself have the option of
pursuing fame through TV talent shows such as the ‘X Factor’ and ‘Britain’s Got Talent’. “The people that use shows like ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ as a short cut to success end up very ‘manufactured’ by record companies, who expect them to be a flash in the pan. For these performers it’s hard to make a comeback after their 15 minutes of fame,” she said.

She sighted Klezmer and Sephardi music as her influences, telling an anecdote about how Klezmer has won the hearts of non-Jewish performers in Poland, who “dress up in like Jewish performers, with fake payot.” Barbara Streisand is one of Sherrington’s heroes; “It’s not cool to say it but she has an amazing screen presence and voice, she’s unique.” Sherrington is
“glad Streisand never had a nose job.”

The performers together discussed whether there is a greater call for entertainment now the UK has the impending danger of a terrorist threat. Reichlin pointed out that Jews are adept at using humour to get through adversity; Elia talked of similar things happening in the form of ‘Jihad – the Musical;’ one of the shows at this year’s Edinburgh Festival.

Sherrington brought up a Jewish/Muslim radio project in Bristol, as an example of how collaborating on entertainment shows “starts to break down preconceived ideas communities have about each other.’

I asked one of the audience members, Jackie Abrahams, in London visiting her sister, how she’d feel if her daughter wanted to pursue a career in entertainment. “I know it’s not always a stable profession, but if my daughter chose to go into this industry I’d encourage her. I want her to be happy,” Abrahams said. She could’ve also mentioned the ability of entertainers – actors, singers, and comedians – have to make others happy, with what Reichlin calls their “Jewish banter”.

Related link:

London Jewish Cultural Centre