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Elvira Kurt

David Steinberg

Caroline Rhea

Evany Rosen


Jane Enkin


'Sarah was 90 years old when she gave birth. I can picture her singing 'The hump on the camel goes up and down, up and down, up and down'

Jane Enkin April 24, 2012


You had to be there ... really, what with the naughty jokes I can't quote, and the political jokes I can't quote, you had to be there. And what with the terrific timing and delivery of the comics in the Winnipeg Comedy Festival, you had to be there to enjoy the full of effect of live comedy.

Winnipeg native David Steinberg, hosted the Saturday evening Gala: The Chosen Show, taped for television. This veteran comic has been away from stand up for a while, directing and producing television series including Curb Your Enthusiasm and the Canadian show Living in Your Car. His jokes were fine, but I took most pleasure in his reminiscences of life in the North End, and his memories of shaking up TV audiences (with material that would be pretty safe now) on The Smothers Brothers. He gave a great “rabbinical sermon” on Moses at the burning bush.

“Take your shoes from off your feet,” said God in His redundant way. Moses took off his shoes, and burnt his feet...”

I love Jon Steinberg's deadpan, intellectual wit on CBC's The Debaters. Unfortunately, for the Chosen Show, Steinberg chose some pretty conventional kvetching bits, one about his girlfriend and the other about finding Hanukah boring – like an old college roommate who comes for an overnight visit and stays a week. I suspect that this very Jewish-looking and-sounding comedian doesn't have Jewish material in his repertoire.


Toronto comic Perry Perlmutar's comedy comes across as both very Jewish and very Canadian. He is a storyteller, sharing the kind of anecdotes that get polished through repeated tellings at the kitchen table. Perlmutar is married to a Muslim woman of Bangladeshi heritage, (“I did marry her for the material...”) and he finds lots of warm multicultural humour in family relations.


I'm an English Second Language teacher, so I'm interested in accents. Her mother can't say the letter 'Z'. My mother can't say [just the right length of pause] Anything Quietly.

Funny, you don't look Jewish...Jeff Rothpan doesn't look Jewish, and he builds a surprising amount of comedy from that simple fact. His best bits aren't anything I can quote!

Stevie Ray Fromstein, born in Toronto and now living in L.A., is an intellectual comic –if he weren't terrifically funny, I would think I was listening to a serious lecture on topics I find fascinating. What is the basis of faith? Do fanatic atheists and fanatic fundamentalists have more similarities than differences? Fromstein, host of The Holy Atheist podcast, interwove general observations on religion with specific details about Judaism.

When celebrities thank God for their awards, I wonder, at what point do you think God got involved? “Thank you God for letting me win the People's Choice Award” That insults everyone! And what about when both teams pray before a game? That puts God in a bind. “I guess I'll just let them fight it out now – I don't know...”

Abraham told people their gods were in rocks, but the One God is in the clouds. “You shouldn't sacrifice to rocks. What sense does that make? You should be cutting off a bit of [you know what] for God in the clouds.” Jews heard about it, they said, “You know, this would be a nice occasion for a little party...”


Judy Gold, star of the long-running Off Broadway play 25 Questions for a Jewish Mother, is an experienced, wise-cracking comic who brings her own quirks to some tried and true motifs of Jewish comedy. She gave equal time to the experiences of having a Jewish mother and being one. Being a divorced, remarried Jewish lesbian mother added a little colour. I got a kick out of picturing her son's panic as he looked toward Mother's Day with fourJewish mothers. At least he gets a break, she reminds him, when it comes to Father's Day.


Canadian Evany Rosen gave a top-notch performance. Her casual clothes (while many male comics show up in shirts and jeans, most of the women really, really dress), along with her easy manner, gave an illusion of spontaneity, but I think her clever material was carefully prepared. She's young, just graduated

...with a degree in Early Modern Philosophy. Look out future, I will not affect you!

She had good stories about her Birthright trip, and showed off a great, deep Israeli accent.

I had to take a bus to Jordan to meet some friends. My Birthright guide was worried. “It's not a good idea.” “Why?” “It will be an Arab bus.” “So...?” “So you'll be the only Jew on the bus.” I'm from Halifax...I'm used to being the only Jew on the bus!

I'm a big fan of The Debaters, a CBC radio show that pits two comedians against one another on some silly issues and some serious ones too. It was fun to be at two tapings of the show, enjoying the stand up session by host Steve Patterson, the audience coaching session, the visual gags, and the bits that get edited out. The performers really do crack each other up – the long dead air passages when everyone on stage was laughing too hard to speak will end up on the cutting room floor. I expect some of the moments when they riled each other up and began shouting overlapping arguments will also disappear.

Some highlights:


Recently married Steve Patterson's tribute to Burton Cummings in the theatre named for the musician

Winnipeg Women

I've got a place to go

Can't spend every night

At the Palomino...

Jon Steinberg's delicious deadpan explanation of why metric measurement is more“sciency” than the old Imperial system

They used a real foot to measure a Foot. A Yard was the amount of lawn you were allowed to have, and an inspector would come around with a yardstick in his hand and hit you with it if your lawn was too big. And to measure distances they used Miles – Miles, the tallest guy in Britain.

Judy Gold and Elvira Kurt squaring off with lots of intensity and physical gags to debate Older Mothers versus Younger Mothers. Here were two young-looking, over forty, beautiful, stylish Jewish lesbian mothers – the only difference Kurt could trade on for our sympathy was that she is Canadian.

Gold was the only comedian I heard using Jewish material outside of the Chosen Show Gala:

Sarah was 90 years old when she gave birth. I can picture her singing “The hump on the camel goes up and down, up and down, up and down.” She lived to 127 years old so she could torture Isaac as long as possible. He lived for 180 years; 160 of them in therapy.

Aboriginal comic Don Kelly and non-Aboriginal (but obviously hanging out with aboriginal guys a lot) Winnipeger Bruce Clark, on whether Canadian culture is based on Aboriginal values. They agreed that it would be best that way... Clark was pretty dazzling demonstrating how to point to your Tim Horton's order with your lips, Cree style.

Women Who Kill followed The Chosen Show at the Pantages Theatre. Toronto's Elvira Kurt stepped in at the last minute for ailing colleague Debra DiGiovanni. Kurt was in constant motion, moving high and low and everywhere on the stage, like a cross between a modern dancer and a spider. She milked, with great success, just two bits – her dislike of airport security, and parenting. She explained that she “has” children, but she didn't “have” them, and then labels herself as a “lesbian dad.” After a graphic, ludicrously physical description of childbirth, she straightened up and deadpanned, “I truly have no idea how that feels.”

I know how to raise a feminist girl, but a boy? To a girl you say “The world is your oyster, you can do anything you put your mind to. She asks “Is that mytree?” You say, “Oh yes, yes, this is nature, this is Gaia...” The boy says, “Is that my tree?” “Who the hell do you think you are?”

Evany Rosen appeared with Cheryl Hann, one of her partners in the improv group Picnicface. They were cute, but their two pieces, one as BFF's and the other as old-time Brooklyn secretaries, didn't have much shape.

Nikki Payne, a treasure from Nova Scotia, is a delight, with a flexible voice that always leads to her trademark screech, and some welcome Canadian political humour.

Southerner Sherri D. Sutton had sad stories about the crash of her relationship with her wife and exotic (to Northern ears) stories about growing up as an ultra-Evangelist Christian. Canadian Rebecca Kohler scored some good points about body image and heterosexual sex and got lots of laughs, although some men in the audience seemed to have less fun than the women. Nicole Arbour's ADD blonde act had nothing to recommend it.

As a surprise treat, the gala opened with Winnipeg singers The Fu Fu Chi Chi Choir. Pretty young women, dressed in Depression era faded dresses, with acoustic guitars – they sound as sweet as they look. But the songs they smile their way through are bitingly funny. I loved their loshen hara number

She and I are such good friends

We're as thick as thieves

And I'll tell you all about her

Just as soon as she leaves...

The whole gala was shaped by wonderful host Caroline Rhea, star ofSabrina and Phineas and Ferb. Glamourous in killer heels and an orange-sequined mini dress, with her warm smile she made the whole audience feel at home with cozy jokes, stories, and an irreverent attitude to the formalities of a televised show.

I never remember why I walked into a room. But for some reason there's always a clue in the refrigerator.

I had a great time. I'm glad I brought my kids to The Debaters, and I'm glad I didn't bring them to The Chosen Show and Women Who Kill. Certain themes ran throughout -- although they trade in satire, irony and sometimes grumpiness, these comedians are boosters – celebrating Winnipeg, the arts, and the CBC.








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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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