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Michael Nathanson
Photo by Michelle Palansky

Daniel Thau-Eleff
Photo by Michelle Palansky

Kelly Hughes, owner of Aqua Books
Photo by Michelle Palansky

Alix Sobler
Photo by Michelle Palansky


By Michelle Palansky, March 24, 2011

Tuesday March 10, at 7 p.m., Aqua Books hosted A Night of Jewish Humour. Alix Sobler, Daniel Thau-Eleff, and Michael Nathanson performed small noshes of Jewish comedy for an appreciative crowd.

Aqua Books, located at 274 Garry Street, is a bookstore and bistro with a tiny, but well used stage on the second floor. Self described as Winnipeg’s cultural city hall, it strives to represent as many cultures and art forms as possible. The evening before, Aqua Books hosted A Night of Mennonite Humour. Host/owner Kelly Hughes described that evening:

“I think most of the audience came out of curiosity.”

Daniel Thau-Eleff was first to take the stage. The audience was engaged by his charismatic, rabbinical delivery. He riffed off of the question – what does it mean to be a Jew?

Going right back to the beginning of our history, Thau-Eleff examined the story of Abraham and Isaac. “Abraham was so Jewish, he did his own circumcision.”

He explored the rich irony of the timing of the Bar Mitzvah, “when a boy’s voice is most likely to crack – that is Jewish humour - very dark.”

Thau-Eleff concluded with a story about Jewish mothers.

He told his mother about a Jewish girl’s profile he saw on JDate. The website,, allows Jewish singles to view each other’s profiles, chat online, and meet in person. Thau-Eleff was intrigued, but did not contact the girl. His mom took it upon herself to start chatting with the girl, posing as her son in the chats. The chatting continued for awhile, quite amiably, until suddenly the girl revealed that she was no girl. She was the mother of the girl posing as her daughter in an effort to set her up on a date with a nice Jewish boy. As it turned out, the daughter wanted nothing to do with the whole mishmash but the mothers ended up meeting for coffee and had a lovely time.

The moral of the story? Actually, that’s not terribly clear but the audience laughed uproariously at the conclusion.

Alix Sobler read from her 2005 play America vs. Canada. She is a compelling performer who really charmed her audience with her vivaciousness. Her characters were delivered with quick fire surety, and the audience showed enthusiasm for her sketches of her father, with his heavy Yiddish accent.

On, Canadian/American relations, “Canada has only one enemy – America.”

Sobler aptly encapsulated what it’s like to have America as your next door neighbour. “The Mrs. was wondering if we could borrow sugar – and all your natural resources?”

She concluded with the story of how her grandparents met. Sobler’s grandfather was all of 5”3', but tough by all accounts. He won the Golden Gloves, an amateur boxing competition in the States, two years running. Sobler’s tiny grandmother was being harassed by some boys in the neighbourhood, so Sobler’s grandfather scared off all of the other boys until he was the only one left. And that is the story of how her grandparents met and married.

Host Hughes shares a special bond with Nathanson; they both performed in the children’s TV variety show, Let’s Go! Hughes took extra care in his introduction and presented Nathanson as “the diminutive and lovely.”

Nathanson shared some of his favourite moments from his own works.

From his play, City of Destiny, a character describes a book he’s writing. “Jews I’ve known named Chris – it was a short book.”

No Offense is a play that Nathanson said was inspired by Chris Rock’s hosting of the Oscars. He quoted a section where two women vent about their frustrations with the world.

“How do you get a Canadian to say sorry?”

“Step on his foot.”

Finally, he shared an excerpt that was cut from his upcoming play, One of Ours. It is a funny bit that was omitted for reasons of flow.

Mark is a successful businessman. Lily is his brother’s non-Jewish fiancée. Lily asks Mark why Jews are so obsessed with sex. Mark answers. “How do you think we survived for 6,000 years?”

Aqua Books will be hosting Passover 101 in April, which Hughes describes as an almost kosher Pesach for gentiles.

“For people who want to experience Passover without all the inconvenience of converting.”

Go to the Aqua Books website for more information at

Michael Nathanson’s Governor General Award-nominated play, Talk, opened the Winnipeg Jewish Theatre’s 2007-2008 season and was a critically acclaimed production in Toronto in March 2010. Michael’s plays have been seen in New York, Dallas and at festivals across Canada. Michael is the Artistic Producer of Winnipeg Jewish Theatre and a member of the Playwrights Guild of Canada. Michael lives in Winnipeg and is married to Rebecca Brask, and has two glorious children, Zevi and Naomi.

Daniel Thau-Eleff is a Winnipeg-based playwright, actor and producer of the Moving Target Theatre Company. Past plays include Remember the Night and Three Ring Circus: Israel, the Palestinians and My Jewish Identity. Daniel's current project is King's Park, which premieres on March 17, 2011. Daniel is also an activist with Winnipeg Copwatch and Independent Jewish Voices.

Alix Sobler is a writer and performer, originally from New York who is living out every little girl's dream to grow up and move to Winnipeg to try and make it big. Her Jewish humour can often be heard on CBC One’s Definitely Not The Opera. In 2010, she performed her solo show Jason Neufeld is Impotent at the Minneapolis Jewish Humor Festival, and her comedy Some Things You Keep premiered at the Winnipeg Jewish Theatre the same year. She is definitely Jewish, and apparently funny, and happy to be in such good company.


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