JW3’s Jewish Comedy Festival returns for second year

Comedian Arthur Smith. Picture: Steve Ullathorne

Comedian Arthur Smith. Picture: Steve Ullathorne - Credit: Archant

Zoe Paskett talks to comedian Arthur Smith, who will performing Arthur Smith Sings Leonard Cohen at the festival.

A Rabbi, a Vicar and an Imam walk into a comedy club. No, that’s not the start of a religiously diverse joke but the line-up for a show at JW3’s Jewish Comedy Festival.

Returning to the Finchley Road venue for the second year, the week-long festival includes solo shows from Stephen Tobolowsky and Josh Howie, talks from Maureen Kendler, and a chance to choose the Jewish Comedian of the Year.

Broadcaster and stand up, Arthur Smith, known for Olivier Award nominated play An Evening with Gary Lineker and regular appearances on Radio 4 performs “an extended remix” of his show Arthur Smith Sings Leonard Cohen.

“I picked the title deliberately because it sounds like the most grim evening of entertainment imaginable,” he says.

“Then I discovered that I could sing it alright and rather enjoyed it. I think most comedians would like to be rock stars, just like most actors would like to comedians.”

Accompanied by band of singers, the Smithereens, Smith’s show touches on themes of silence, despair and dementia, while maintainig its comedic momentum.

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“It’s about loss and my mother’s journey through dementia, which was all happening as I was writing it. It sounds quite gloomy and thoughtful but then it’ll suddenly turn funny.”

Arthur Smith Sings Leonard Cohen premiered 14 years ago, running in Edinburgh and the West End to rave reviews. He has since updated it.

“It’s vaguely railing against that mad manufactured enthusiasm I see all around me. The world has got multiple exclamation marks. It’s hard for my generation to cope with the degree of ‘WOW!’”

Perhaps Smith’s most recognisable appearances are on BBC’s Grumpy Old Men, complaining about everything from smoking to baby-on-board car signs. He certainly hasn’t lost his ability to grumble.

“It’s inevitable when you get older that young people get more and more annoying. All young people presume that old people have chosen to be old. It’s as if they became 70 to annoy this 25 year old more effectively.”

One young person who doesn’t frustrate him is Sara Pascoe, also appearing at the festival.

“She’s part of that wave of new young female comics that I really approve of,” says Smith. “People like Sarah Pascoe are brilliant and it infuriates me when men say women aren’t funny. Of course women are funny. It’s much harder for female comics as they have to face sexism that seems to have come back in some male comics.”

Tobolowsky, the American actor and comedian who appeared in Groundhog Day, Glee and Curb Your Enthusiasm brings his hugely popular show, The Tobolowsky Files, to the festival on December 5. Others in the line-up include Matthew Crosby, Jason Solomons and Robert Popper.

Tickets jw3.org.uk/uk-jewish-comedy-festival. The festival runs 28 November – 5 December