Jewish comedy smorgasbord

Festival creative director Justine Sless doing stand-up at the Melbourne Jewish Comedy Festival. Photo: Peter Haskin

AFTER the success of the inaugural Melbourne Jewish Comedy Festival last year, expectations were high for this year’s abridged festival, so much so that the one-night variety show at Memo Hall in St Kildaon September 11 was sold out well in advance.

When hosts for the night, Josh Gurgiel and Eli Grynberg, started with their topical quips and -rapid-fire repartee covering everything from JDate and J-Safe to synagogues and politics, the audience quickly warmed to their stand-up comedy and were keen for more comedy.

It was billed as a night of comedy, cabaret, storytelling and songs, plus a celebration of culture through comedy, but the vibe was that most of the audience was there because of the comedy.

Creative director Justine Sless and her team had several young stars of the comedy scene on the bill, including New York-born Melbourne-based comedian Eve Ellenbogen and Michael Shafar, as well as seasoned performers
Jack Felman and Helen Mizrachi, who acted as host of the second half of the event.

The first guest to take to the stage was acclaimed author Arnold Zable, who read a long excerpt from his book, Cafe Scheherazade, which has strong links to Acland Street .

Zable’s writing is powerful and evocative, and his storytelling skills are first class, so it was a shame to see people in the audience lose interest after a few minutes and reach for their mobile phones to check Facebook posts and email messages.

When Zable’s segment was completed, Gurgiel returned to the stage and quipped: “That’s how you start a comedy night!” His line earned him strong applause.

Comedian Jordana Borensztajn followed with a comic bent on social media, while Ellenbogen focused on sex themes which became a running joke with many of the comics who followed her on the stage. Both comics kept their segments short and sharp.

A highlight was Felman as his much-loved character The Bubba as he tackled issues from the elderly to the younger generation gap with his mangled Yiddish. Here was a polished performer doing his shtick that appealed to all ages.

Singer Josh Levy performed musical comedy with plenty of humour as he played the piano, while Michael Shafer was polished in a rapid-fire comedy routine that covered the gamut of current issues. Sless focuses on issues closer to home in her sparkling comedy routine.

There were further singing sessions from classy performers Galit Klas and Karen Feldman, encouraging the audience to sing along in cabaret style.

The inaugural Melbourne Jewish Comedy Festival in 2015 was a feast of comedy spread over six days. This year was a one-night event that tried to please everyone by offering a variety of acts in bite-sized fashion.

Let’s look forward to a return to the full-sized festival in 2017 where each genre of comedy can be enjoyed as a full course.

REPORT by Danny Gocs