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.