In the Broadway production of Monty Python’s Spamalot, midway through the second act Sir Robin advises King Arthur that “We won’t succeed on Broadway / If you don’t have any Jews.” Starring dancing girls wearing Magen Davids and featuring a Fiddler on the Roof bottle dance parody, the song and the show was wildly successful in New York but not so in London, Sir Robin’s tune described by The Guardian as “a Broadway in-joke that has little purchase this side of the Atlantic.” When the show eventually went on tour in the United Kingdom, “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway” was radically re-written, the focus shifting towards celebrity producers and actors.
That the joke was lost in translation was hardly surprising, given the absence in the U.K. of a strong tradition of either Jews as objects of humour (in a nice way, at least) or the Jewish sensibility as the butt of jokes. The rise of comics like Sacha Baron Cohen and Simon Amstell notwithstanding, the U.K. has never had prominent figures like Woody Allen and Jackie Mason who use Jewishness or stereotypical Jewish traits for comedic effect. Reflecting a desire for homogeneity, British humour has traditionally sought to be universal, compared to the way Jews and other minorities have carved out niches in the multi-ethnic American entertainment scene. That is, until now. A new primetime reality show has, whether they wanted it or not, pushed British Jews into the spotlight, highlighting in particular the old trope of the clingy, bolshy, and neurotic Jewish mother.
The premise of Jewish Mum of the Year (airing now on Channel 4) is a simple one: eight Jewish mothers compete in weekly trials, including organising a successful Bar Mitzvah and making a perfect match, in order to be named Mother of the Year by The Jewish News and become their new agony aunt columnist.
In 1975, UK author Alan Coren published a humorous collection of essays called “Golfing for Cats” — and emblazoned the cover with a huge swastika. He had noticed the most popular titles in Britain were about cats, golf and Nazis.
Thirty-six years later, notes the BBC this week, “Nazi books are going stronger than ever. A staggering 850 books about the Third Reich were published in 2010, up from 350 in the year 2000. And they mostly still have a swastika on the front cover.”
The sheer range of Reich-related literature in Britain is astonishing, the BBC reports. “The phenomenal and continuing success of books about the Nazis includes fiction, non-fiction and science fiction. They include the occult and the Nazis, Nazi magic, Nazi weaponry and Nazi doctors. There’s the history of SS uniforms, SS staff cars, SS recruitment and propaganda. You can read counter histories imagining Britain if the Nazis had won or post-war histories of the exploitation of Nazi scientific discoveries by America and the other Allied powers. There is a firsthand account of Himmler’s masseur.”
Will a Jewish thread run through the wedding of Prince William and fiancée Kate Middleton, who announced their engagement this week?
One of Britain’s biggest bookmakers thinks so, according to the UK Jewish Chronicle. Paddy Power, which operates betting parlors, telephone gambling, and online gaming in the UK and Ireland, has tipped London-based designer Elizabeth Emanuel as the most likely candidate to create the future Queen’s bridal outfit.
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