Arnold Brown Introduces And Why Not?

Arnold Brown Introduces And Why Not?

by Ella Fitzsimmons

As Arnold Brown, alternative comedy legend and man trying to get funding for his movie would probably agree, stereotypes about Jews are funny because they’re true. I should have known. The Soho Theatre used to be a synagogue, and his gig was done under the auspices of the London Jewish Film Festival. Little known fact: even if you leave your own Jewish mother in another country, another one will find you and rearrange your life. With that in mind, going to a Jewish event and hoping to remain an independent adult is simply foolhardy. Five minutes. Only five. (I checked my watch.) That was how long it took from me entering the Soho Theatre to being roped in to going to a North London synagogue and promising to be amenable to being set up with the lovely couple next to mine’s friend’s son. “Ach, a clever girl like you! And pretty! I would LOVE to set you up with someone!” As anyone with a Jewish mother can attest, saying “no” to them is impossible: it just comes out as “yes, of course”.

Last time I was at the Soho Theatre, I saw Stewart Lee taint a brilliant set by being deeply unfunny about Jews. Fortunately, Arnold Brown (who, incidentally, Lee loves), who ran the evening in a sort of talk show format, has great schtick about his fellow Chosen people, who made up the majority of his guests and the bulk of his material. Old, Glaswegian and still sharp, Brown is at his best when he quizzically twists his eyebrows and deadpans a one-liner. Some of them are truly beautiful in their simplicity; “I use the comic technique of self-deprecation, but I’m not very good at it” being a particular highlight, as was “Are there any Zionists in the house? Are there any Zionists in anyone else’s house?” I would have loved to see Brown do stand up at the Comedy Store back in his heyday, because like most comedians I love (Richard Pryor springs to mind), there’s something painfully vulnerable about the former accountant’s face the split second after he delivers a joke; a quick unspoken question of “Do they like me? Was that funny?” that seems immune to success and histories of laughter.

Sadly, while I hope Brown’s movie gets made, the evening showed why someone of his reputation is having to resort to a Kickstarter campaign: I don’t think I’ve ever seen a project in such desperate need of a good producer. Their Kickstarter page says Brown and Jes Benstock, the director, now have a producer on board, and you really have to hope she sorts it out. Despite the funniness and charisma of Brown and two of the guests involved in the film (David Schneider nerding out over his love of Yiddish and a glorious Miriam Margolyes sharing family stories and ideas with Brown), the evening sagged painfully in the middle: Bill Paterson and Helen Lederer in conversation with Brown came across as awkward and patronising respectively. In general, the evening had an air of being improvised and sloppily put together, without a clear aim. Was it a retrospective? If so, why not show more of Brown’s work? Was it a fundraiser? If so, why wasn’t this pushed more? And if it was a “work in progress” display, it would have been fun to see more of what the team behind Brown were working on, beyond the director asking for £9k to help him go off the dole. Still, I’m glad I went, both for the crash course in British alternative comedy and for the great chemistry between Brown and Margolyes: if the film gets made, the two of them will be magical on screen.

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