Ahead of his upcoming show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the award-winning comedian Simon Brodkin, who in 2018 performed at Campaign Against Antisemitism’s comedy fundraiser, appeared as the first guest of Podcast Against Antisemitism’s second season where he explained his newfound liberation in speaking about antisemitism and his Jewish identity on stage, among other topics.
The comedian previously performed on stage as a variety of characters, the most notable of which being the “happy-go-lucky, south London self-proclaimed legend” Lee Nelson. Through his character of Lee Nelson, Mr Brodkin found great success which included his own television show and numerous live tours.
However, he said that at some point after, he thought: “Hang on, I would like to start doing stuff out of character and as myself.”
“And that was the big change of realising, ‘I can talk about things that have only a connection with myself,’ and that was amazing and liberating and interesting for me,” he said. “And suddenly the whole name of the game with straight stand-up is to connect and talk about things that can only be true to yourself so it’s the complete antithesis of the character comedy.
“I was sort of hiding behind those characters because I was never quite comfortable in my own skin and that’s been a really cool journey for me talking about things that are close to my heart…my Jewish identity is something that I’ve been open about and talking about and of course, with every bit of Jewish identity, you only have to go one, two, three generations back until you get some antisemitism, and sadly that’s ingrained very much in our culture.
“My grandma escaped from Nazi Germany and I will not be alone with that. And I started bringing that to the table, bringing that to the stage, and it’s been joyous for me.”
However, Mr Brodkin’s career has not always been smooth sailing. After performing jokes about the antisemitic former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn a few years ago, Mr Brodkin unwittingly found himself on the receiving end of a Twitter pile-on.
“The comic needs to be able to look at themselves in the mirror and go ‘That can stand up to scrutiny. I can justify saying that because the punchline to the joke is funny enough but also the target of the joke is a justifiable target.’
“The Jeremy Corbyn thing was really interesting for me because actually, I was slow to the party there. At first, when some of my wiser friends were telling me, ‘This Jeremy Corbyn guy…he’s an antisemite,’ I was like ‘Ah, what? Really? C’mon.’ I was in that camp, and then it clicked for me. I got it, I realised it, I read enough and saw enough and learned enough I was like ‘Oh my God.’
“I wanted, then, to make sure that I was doing what I could. If I’m gonna talk about antisemitism on stage, there [was] nothing more relevant at the moment then in the UK than Jeremy Corbyn and so I couldn’t talk about antisemitism, and being a Jew today, without mentioning him and what I thought of him.”
However, the comedian went on to reveal that following a gig at which he performed jokes about Mr Corbyn, he was bombarded with angry tweets.
“[The audience member] heckled me, after that she had a word with me but then after that, when she got home, she went on Twitter…it was a pile-on.”
My Brodkin said that he wasn’t surprised, however. “I’m used to some other antisemitic pile-ons…the head of the KKK, Mr David Duke, he outed me as a Jew on social media and the pile-on I got after that was insane. It was absolutely mad.
“It was before I was out of character so I felt much more detached from it. I hadn’t made that move into talking about myself so it was sort of one step removed. Since I’ve done stuff on stage as myself, everything feels more personal which is great because you feel like you’re really pouring your heart out in that emotional connection you get, but then if you get some abuse afterward it feels more about you.”
Throughout the interview, Mr Brodkin touched upon a wide variety of topics which included the antisemitic rapper Wiley, when to draw the line in comedy and his upcoming tour.
Podcast Against Antisemitism, produced by Campaign Against Antisemitism, talks to a different guest about antisemitism each week. It streams every Thursday and is available through all major podcast apps and YouTube. You can also subscribe to have new episodes sent straight to your inbox.