First Gig Worst Gig

Daphna Baram

Daphna Baram

An Israeli human rights lawyer and writer turned London-based comedian, Daphna Baram's back-story certainly stands out on the UK comedy circuit. Chris Ramsay, she isn't. Fear not though, faint-hearted humour fans, her unique take on life strife and the increasingly ominous global omnishambles is invariably delivered in a luxuriously likeable fashion.

Baram will be travelling to several Fringes over the next few weeks - Brighton, Hastings and Camden - with her new show Chicken Soup Crusader, which is "kind of about how I, the Middle East's Mary Poppins, will save you from Trump, May, Le Pen, Netanyahu and ISIS," she says. Thank goodness for that. She's come a long way.

First Gig?

My first gig was the showcase of my Comedy School course, on the 19th June 2010. There were about 300 people in, 25 of them my guests. It was a friendly room. There were 13 of us, out of the 16 who took the course. The guy from the men's rights group couldn't perform as he didn't manage to write anything but diatribes of hate without one punchline; the hilarious Romanian girl did not trust her English. I can't remember who the third dropout was.

Everybody was petrified. I wasn't so much, because I'm gullible, and also because I had already long experience of public speaking, court performances, TV news commentary and teaching. Little did I know. I had another problem: the previous night we all went drinking, and while amazingly pissed, walking down the street with that really attractive Irish guy who never became a comedian in the end, I fell off my platform sandal and messed up my ankle.

At the Whittington Hospital the doctor was convinced it was broken, but the x-ray came back with a prognosis of "seriously squished" and a prescription of frozen peas compresses and strictly no standing up.

Oh dear...

Daphna Baram

Not only did I stand up, I stood up on stilettos, in my weird outfit comprised of a corset and a slutty red dress. Only God knows what I was thinking, but at the time my comedy style was "Rambo-Dominatrix". Audiences familiar with my current, way-closer-to-the-real-me 'Middle Eastern Mary Poppins' persona would not have recognised me. I was leaning on a walking stick for dear life, introduced myself as "not Dr Gregory House" and opened with the joke I wrote to explain it:

"Last night I engaged in that new extreme sport called Urban Bungee Slide. It takes two pints of Guinness, wedge sandals, and a gentleman to support you if things go wrong. Unfortunately I went for the super-extreme version, in which you get a shot of vodka for every pint of Guinness, and an Irishman to support you when things go wrong."

It was a great gig, I had a blast, and I was absolutely terrible. I pulled weird faces, rolled my eyes all over the place and was completely contrived. Though looking at the video of it this week (I blame you, BCG! And no you can't see it) I think there were some funny premises there, and quite a good sense of timing.

Favourite gig, ever?

No! Don't make me pick one. I'll tell you briefly (I promise) of a few that I remember. Firstly, I always, always enjoy being at The Stand in Glasgow. For me it is the ultimate comedy club. There's a stunning buzz in the air from the moment you walk in, it is operated super professionally, great audience, and they always give me the whole bar to drink after my set, which is an endearing trait.

I also remember being very happy and in awe doing a great charity gig for the Palestine Solidarity campaign for 400 people at the Red Gallery in Shoreditch, MCed by Alexei Sayle, with Nish Kumar, Tom Allen, me, and headliner Jeremy Hardy. I'm normally not a nervous performer but I was shitting myself over this one. I was sitting in the green room constantly on the verge of tears, with Alexei and Jeremy being super supportive, and the audience utterly lovely.

When a gig goes well, it really is exhilarating. People say that, to keep your sanity, you need to try not to sink too low and not fly too high. I'm trying to cheat myself into doing the former without the latter. I love the highs.

Worst gig?

I think the most memorably horrific one was in Brighton, at a lesbian bar. Lesbians are normally a great audience and really appreciate female comics, but I've fallen on a group of angry ladies who have been drinking steadily since the morning. They had a tiny dog. And they hated me from the onset. I couldn't get why. I thought maybe I was "too girly".

Later it turned out they were a mixed group of Dutch and South African women and they all thought my Israeli accent was a put-on designed to take the piss out of them. They were shouting "get off, you are shit!". I've never encountered this level of hate from an audience before (nor, blissfully, after).

My best friend who was in the audience was sobbing in horror, and while trying to be gracious and congratulate another act who had done well, I spilled his pint on him. It was a long and painful train journey home. I feel I need to say - I've done predominantly lesbian gigs in Brighton many times since, and they've all been great, but that one was certainly a baptism by fire.

The weirdest gig?

I was doing my Edinburgh show Frenemies with Peyvand Khorsandi in 2012, at the Jekyll and Hyde, down at the Krypt. It was an Israeli-Iranian type of theme. We managed to drag quite a few people in. I talked a good looking Czech bloke and his Scottish mate in. I was still oblivious to the rule which determines that above a certain level of drunkenness an audience member is not "more laughs / money in bucket" but a liability.

Ten minutes into my set, and I hear a penny drop in the head of Yuri in the front row. From all I said he finally realised that I must be Jewish. And there was one thing he knew for sure about my ilk. "You!" he shouted all of a sudden, pointing at me. "You killed Jesus". It was the first time I had to, and felt equipped to, put down a heckler, and discovered it can actually be quite a lot of fun when the audience is on your side.

Who's the most disagreeable person you've come across in the business?

I'm hardly the world's greatest diplomat but I got myself into enough scrapes already so let's just say that as an archetype I am averse to the type of act who would kick five of his colleagues, jump over their corpses, stomp over their heads and spill their pints on his way to bend the ear of some poor 'industry' type who happened to haplessly pop in for a drink.

I'm also not too crazy about the promoter who introduces new comedians using racist and sexist stereotypes. And there's the one who stole my Edinburgh venue under my feet two years back and the wicked witch who sailed with him. That's pretty much it. Most acts and promoters I find very agreeable and I generally love the spirit surrounding this undertaking.

Daphna Baram

Is there one routine/gag you loved, that audiences inexplicably didn't?

Yes. More than one. I just can't remember a specific one. I throw jokes to the bin all the time if they don't work, but sometimes you do get attached, and just don't get how come they don't get it. Sometimes, changing the wording in a sentence can help redeem a joke, but sometimes it just has to go.

In my show Something to Declare there was a whole routine about a useless terrorist which your publication kindly described as "One of the most extraordinary true stories of this year's Fringe". Most audiences seemed to agree with this observation, but they found it very hard to laugh at the jokes in it, because it felt 'wrong' in so many ways.

I tried to tell it in different ways, plant more jokes in - the works. It was always hit and miss. It does, interestingly, get more laughs at storytelling gigs, where jokes are incidental to the stories, so they are deemed more 'legitimate' somehow.

What's your best insider travel tip, for gigging comics?

Do your very best to book your tickets for the actual dates in which you plan to travel.

And when you have a ticket for the last train out of Leicester, don't sit around drinking with your mates and call an Uber five minutes before the train leaves because you'll get stranded in Leicester and not for the first time.

When you are on a bus to St Pancras to go gig in Paris, try not to leave your suitcase on it.

Learn to drive and you'll never have to write a joke again. The latter is the only one I've not tried.

The most memorable review, heckle or post-gig reaction to your stuff?

See under "weirdest gig?". Also, [well-known reviewer] Steve Bennett called me 'brusque'. I had to google it.

How do you feel about where your career is at, right now?

I've had a few financial setbacks which meant I can't do Edinburgh this year. It had pissed me off but it might be a blessing in disguise. I'm working slowly and steadily on Chicken Soup Crusader, and when I bring it up next year, it will rock and roll. I've been working with director Amanda Baker for the last four years and it changed the way I think about comedy, and improved my discipline. She's beyond brilliant.

Like all comics, I want to be more successful, do massive gigs and be rich, famous, 28 years-old and taller. That said, I feel I have matured as a comedian in the sense that all those things genuinely matter to me less than writing great jokes, perfecting a great routine, learning a new skill which kicks my set upwards, and evolving constantly in my craft.

I feel that this is happening for me and it is exciting. As long as there's stuff to be cracked, learned, and conquered, I'll stay interested. That said, if the right people want to book me, sign me, write raving reviews about me and lay wreaths on my head they are very welcome to do so. Flattery will get them most places.

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