Frenemies

Note: This review is from 2012

Review by Steve Bennett

We’re at London’s Frontline Club, the private haunt for foreign correspondents, that adventurous breed well used to to coming under hostile fire. Even so, it was surely foolhardy for Daphna Baram – an Israeli journalist and comparatively new comedian – to face critical flak by inviting reviews of what turned out to be a very muddled work in progress.

She teamed up with Iranian-born Peyvand Khorsandi for this two-header, apparently inspired by The Arab And The Jew, the show Omid Djalili and Ivor Dembina performed back when the Green Line was just a bus service, to make the most of their nations’ apparent animosity.

After a clumsy and forced coin-tossing business, supposedly to determine the running order, Baram embarked on her jumbled set, with clunky jokes delivered with a brusque, awkward force which exposed her inexperience as a comedian.

She played up both Jewish and Israeli stereotypes – aggressive yet full of self-loathing – but barely scratched the surface of either; and seemed very pleased with herself for using the phrase ‘weapons of mass distraction’ in one typically long and convoluted section, as if the wordplay was brand new.

Despite this, the routine wasn’t particularly political, whatever her background as a frequent writer on Israel and this unusual choice of venue might have led you to believe. There’s something a little more interesting in her more personal experiences on the big issues (but not on her turning 40, which is a bit of a yawn) but again it’s lost under a wealth of flannel.

Baram – who also performs as Miss D – says on her website that she has more than 200 gigs under her belt, but her delivery didn’t seem at all relaxed or natural, which combined with the lack of clarity is a weak combination. This needs a lot more thought before it’s ready.

Khorsandi – the brother of Shappi – was no better prepared. Indeed, he left his notes in the gents’ toilets of the pub across the road, and had to dispatch a female friend to retrieve them.

Much of his material, too, was woolly – he accidentally implied the Japanese were all drug-dealers in one clumsily-worded gag – but he has a lot more cheesy charm and innate charisma, which goes a long way. He shrugged off his failures and jokes that didn’t land with a good grace that endears him – even if he shouldn’t have to rely on his ability to rescue himself quite as much as he did.

He left Iran at six, so doesn’t have much of an opinion on his homeland, but he can comment pointedly on a few spin-off issues, such as George Galloway cosying up to some unsavoury leaders. And can, at least, write in the format of jokes, even if the result is hit and miss.

In keeping with his affably clumsy persona, he inadvertently provided the funniest moment of the night when he accidentally caught the mic stand in his belt – a feat of physical comedy even the most accomplished clown would have difficulty achieving – and briefly performed with it suspended in the air behind him, blissfully ignorant of the fact.

The evening was held together by MC Katerina Vrana – a Greek possibly chosen as a neutral mediator between the two – who, at least, brought a veneer of professionalism. With a party piece in which she addresses the nations of the world as if they were miscreant children, very much in the manner of Joyce Grenfell, her writing is rather straightforward, but she has a verve that energises the room.

Other than the compering, there might be a process by which this mess can be sorted out, but it could be a difficult and time-consuming process. The Middle East situation might be simpler to fix.

Review date: 29 Jan 2012
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Frontline Club

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