So­cial­is­ing with up­tight Brits turned me into a co­me­dian

The Jewish Chronicle - - Arts&entertainment - BY ALEX KAS­RIEL

IF YOU thought we had a lot in com­mon with our Jewish North Amer­i­can coun­ter­parts, think again. One Cana­dian co­me­dian found her ex­pe­ri­ence of mov­ing to Lon­don so dif­fi­cult, she was com­pelled to write a stand-up show on the sub­ject.

The Only Jew in The Vil­lage is, as its au­thor Judy Batal­ion puts it, “part stand-up, part story telling, part con­fes­sional, part rant per­for­mance” about her ex­pe­ri­ence of mov­ing to a flat in the Mus­lim area of Whitechapel in the East End and study­ing for a PhD at the Cour­tauld In­sti­tute of Art be­fore em­bark­ing on a ca­reer in com­edy.

“It’s about me as a young North Amer­i­can sub­ur­ban Jewess com­ing to Lon­don and be­ing a bit fraz­zled about the dif­fer­ences of be­ing Jewish in Amer­ica and Lon­don,” ex­plains the 32-yearold, who now di­vides her time be­tween New York and north Lon­don.

“I talk about com­ing from the East Coast of Amer­ica where it’s very comfortable be­ing Jewish. In many ways it’s less comfortable be­ing Jewish here but I didn’t know that, so I found my­self in un­usual sit­u­a­tions.”

Batal­ion is re­fer­ring to the time when she in­vited all her “tof­fee-nosed” friends from the Cour­tauld to her flat for a Chanu­cah party. “I threw a big Chanu­cah party not know­ing that this is not re­ally done in the UK,” she says. “No one knew what Chanu­cah was. For me that was the most mind-blow­ing thing. In Amer­ica every­one knows what Chanu­cah is.”

The party was, un­sur­pris­ingly, rather awk­ward. “When an English per­son comes into your house, they don’t nose around. I was show­ing them my bed­room and try­ing to bring th­ese posh aca­demics into my space. It was an un­in­ten­tional com­edy of man­ners. I was try­ing to make them feel comfortable by hug­ging them and flat­ter­ing them in ways that make English peo­ple very un­com­fort­able,” she says, adding that she was shocked to see them eat latkes with a knife and fork.

In the show Batal­ion also talks feel­ing like an out­sider in the Bri­tish com­edy cir­cuit. “I did make peo­ple laugh,” she says. “But the back­stage pol­i­tics were un­com­fort­able. I felt like an out­sider. I couldn’t un­der­stand what all th­ese North­ern women were say­ing. The ac­cents were too thick and the women’s hu­mour was a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent. It was sex­ual. Every­one’s talk­ing about con­doms and vagi­nas whereas I was do­ing a piece about my re­la­tion­ship with my brain.

“Be­ing Jewish was not at the front of my mind. I was just writ­ing what I knew but in Eng­land I was very quickly pi­geon­holed as Jewish. It was about my face. I seem like a Jewish per­former.”

Hav­ing won a UK Jewish Film Fes­ti­val award, Batal­ion co-wrote and pro­duced a short film called I Am Ruthie Se­gal — Hear Me Roar, which will be screened at next month’s fes­ti­val. It tells the story of a bat­mitz­vah girl who takes the op­por­tu­nity of her mo­ment on the bimah­totellthe­con­gre­ga­tion­what she re­ally thinks about the cer­e­mony.

“I think there’s a strong sen­ti­ment about feel­ing ex­cluded from the Jewish com­ing-of-age rit­u­als,” says Batal­ion. “It is a cheeky com­edy which ref­er­ences earnest fem­i­nism but still recog­nises the im­por­tance of it.”

Screen­ing de­tails of I am Ruthie Se­gal, Hear me Roar. Screen­ings at uk­jew­ish­film­fes­ti­val.org.uk

The Only Jew in the Vil­lage is at Rich Mix The­atre, Lon­don E1 on Novem­ber 5. (rich­mix.org.uk, 020 7613 7498). Hosted by the Jewish Com­mu­nity Cen­tre for Lon­don (www. jc­clon­don.org. uk)

Judy Batal­ion

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