ARTS FRINGE BEN­E­FITS IN EDINBURGH

LUCY POHL

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - BY JOHN NATHAN The show is at the Gilded Bal­loon un­til Au­gust 25

TEN IN the morn­ing might as well be the crack of dawn for most comics, given that they are no­to­ri­ously late ris­ers. But New Yorker Lu­cie Pohl has stirred her­self from her bed to speak about her Edinburgh Fes­ti­val de­but. There is a part of her that likes to be on time — “the Ger­man part”, Pohl ex­plains. Pre­sum­ably, if it was up to the Jewish part, which comes from her Ro­ma­nian-born mother, Pohl would prob­a­bly still be asleep. But it is that Jewish half that au­di­ences see in her show, Hi Hitler, which deals with the pinball psy­chol­ogy of be­ing born and raised in Ger­many, mi­grat­ing to New York when she was eight, go­ing back to Ger­many and then re­turn­ing to the Big Ap­ple.

“New York is my home in this story,” Pohl says. “When I went back for the sec­ond time I ex­pected the city to wel­come me with open arms. But I didn’t have the right pa­pers. My par­ents are artists and they never cared about green cards or get­ting cit­i­zen­ship. They never thought that would be an is­sue. Nei­ther did I.”

The stance of im­mi­gra­tion con­trol was that Pohl was a tourist with no right to any kind of per­ma­nent res­i­dency. Her only op­tion was a visa for artists un­der the cat­e­gory of “alien of ex­tra­or­di­nary abil­ity”. So that is what Pohl did. The re­sult is a fas­ci­nat­ing au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal stand-up per­for­mance that tells how a young Ger­man girl be­came a New Yorker, spent large parts of her life in both places but has never quite felt at home.

“The show deals with the sense of not know­ing what your iden­tity is. I was eight when we moved to New York — but I re­mem­ber when I was younger that there were many in­ci­dents where my mother would be treated badly in Ger­many. They would say things like, ‘you’re a for­eigner, get out of here’, be­cause she’s very small and dark.”

That de­scrip­tion suits Pohl, too. But it didn’t pro­tect her from sim­i­lar treat­ment in the States. “When we moved to New York I was al­ways ‘that Ger­man girl’ un­til I moved back to Ger­many af­ter I grad­u­ated. Then I was ‘ that Amer­i­can girl’. So the show is about this sense of not know­ing where you be­long and ac­cept­ing it.”

It was only af­ter Pohl ar­rived in Amer­ica for the first time that she started to re­alise that a lot of her fam­ily on her mother’s side died in the Holo­caust. Her grand­mother told her sto­ries about hav­ing to wear a yel­low star. “I be­gan to un­der­stand that the his­tory was di­rectly re­lated to me and my fam­ily and my peo­ple,” the 30-year-old re­counts.

“Fam­ily and peo­ple” in­clude a ma­ter­nal line that con­nects Pohl to the Ger­man ant-fas­cist play­wright Ber­tolt Brecht. Her mother is Brecht’s niece. “In Ro­ma­nia, she was per­se­cuted for not be­ing the right kind of com­mu­nist. So they were brought to East Ber­lin by her aunt Helene Weigel, Brecht’s wife. The Ber­lin Wall went up a week later so she was stuck there. She was later imprisoned for protest­ing against the govern­ment.”

It is easy to see how Euro­pean his­tory and pol­i­tics was al­ways a sub­ject of dis­cus­sion in Pohl’s fam­ily. Her par­ents — her fa­ther is a play­wright, her mother

‘AS A FIVEYEAR-OLD I THOUGHT IT WAS HI, NOT HEIL HITLER’

is a singer — hung out with Ger­man in­tel­lec­tu­als and there were of­ten ar­gu­ments about pol­i­tics, Hitler and the Sec­ond World War.

“My dad was al­ways very provoca­tive to­wards those Ger­mans who would say things like ‘the Ger­man aris­toc­racy was against Hitler’, and would ar­gue with them. That’s how I be­came ob­sessed with Hitler. I used to do draw­ings of him hold­ing up the peace sign and smil­ing. This char­ac­ter just fas­ci­nated me with­out my know­ing he was evil. We’re talk­ing when I was four or five years old. My par­ents thought it funny that I would be do­ing these doo­dles of Hitler. And when I told my mum that for the kin­der­garten fancy dress car­ni­val I wanted to go as Hitler, she looked at me and said: ‘I don’t think that’s a very good idea’. So I went as a spoon.”

Of course, Pohl wouldn’t be the first Jewish comedian to find Hitler funny. Es­pe­cially in Amer­ica. But in Ger­many the fuhrer is still no laugh­ing mat­ter and there are no plans to take the show to the coun­try of her birth.

“When I first did the show in New York I sent an email to the Ger­man con­sulate ask­ing if they’d like to list it. I’m Ger­man, I’m Jewish, so why not? They wrote back and said ab­so­lutely not. For a start the ti­tle was too close to the orig­i­nal phrase, they said.” Ac­tu­ally, it is so ti­tled be­cause of the orig­i­nal phrase that Pohl had mis­in­ter­preted as a five-year-old. “I thought it was ‘Hi’, not ‘Heil’. As in ‘Hi Hitler, great to see you’.”

Lucy Pohl: “I was ‘that Ger­man girl’ in Amer­ica and ‘that Amer­i­can girl’ in Ger­many

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