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Jewish comedian Mark Maier: ‘Anti-Semitism is all the rage’

PUBLISHED: 17:00 24 May 2016 | UPDATED: 10:14 25 May 2016

Mark Maier. Picture: Steve Best

Mark Maier. Picture: Steve Best

Archant

“Anti-Semitism is all the rage”, quips Jewish comedian Mark Maier.

Confessing he’s not one of those stand-ups who relishes a heckle, he adds: “Years ago at a gig, some drunken anti-Semitic fool in the audience shouted ‘why don’t’ you f**k off back to Golders Green?’

I mumbled something awkward about him being a Nazi but had I had a bit more experience I might have said something mildly amusing like ‘you think I can afford to live in Golders Green? Have you seen the prices?”

In fact Maier lives in Muswell Hill and after 26 years on the circuit is a seasoned pro who brings the best of his Jewish jokes to a one-off gig at the Duchess Theatre next month.

Keeping Kosher, family anecdotes and the delights of Oslo Court are all namechecked in Greatest Schvitz.

“I have built up a mass of Jewish jokes and observations, it’s a sort of run through of my greatest hits.

“Although one of the tricky things with doing niche comedy to the Jewish Community is they might’ve heard it all before.

“It’s also difficult to try out ideas and new material.

“You can’t exactly go to Nottingham Jongleurs and talk about Pesach, so you have to hit the ground running.

“Well that’s my excuse for not having a big churn of material.”

Maier, who describes himself as a “traditional Jew” - “as in not very, but I keep the traditions” is aware of joining a long line of Jewish comedians, from Woody Allen to Jackie Mason. “The very nature of being Jewish is

being inward looking and self-deprecating.

“Our history has dictated that we are culturally self conscious and always looking over our shoulders.

“We listen to the news, and if it’s something bad, say about financial irregularities, we don’t want the person responsible to be Jewish.

“It’s a world of suffering but being put upon is a rich source of humour. Everything is a negative even if it’s positive, it lends itself to comedy.”

Maier namechecks his family in his routines but says it’s more affectionate than malicious.

“As I say in the blurb ‘any character traits or personality disorders are entirely deliberate.”

So what is it about Oslo Court, the famously retro, peach-hued restaurant in a St John’s Wood apartment block that tickles him?

“It’s the whole kitsch thing; the camp Egyptian dessert waiter who apparently isn’t gay, the ageing Jewish clientele who seem to have their birthdays every day of the week.”

Maier quit his job in advertising to start his own improvisation comedy group and has played the Comedy Store, written radio series, and acted including in BBC2 Sit-com Boy Meets Girl which features TV’s first transgender lead character.

He adapts his brand of observational humour for mixed audiences on the comedy circuit.

“For a non Jewish audience, old, young, black, white, middle class, you try and tap in and find a communality.

“Some jokes take more explaining but it can work. But when I strike a chord with a Jewish audience there’s things they recognise.

“Even if they have never been to Oslo court, they’re aware of the subject matter.

“I enjoy when there’s a uniform feeling of appreciation and understanding, I played to a Jewish audience in South Africa and people got the references, it turned out behaviour is universal and it translated nicely.

“Mind you I’ve played audiences in North London where the average age is deceased. It’s nice they are paying but I’d rather have younger people who can hear. You want an audience to wet themselves...but not literally.”

Mark Maier’s Greatest Schvitz is at the Duchess Theatre on June 13.

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