Antisemitism, hard-wired and unpicked

Antisemitism, hard-wired and unpicked

For JN Aug 2023

Not everyone, thinks Marlon Solomon, has the patience or temperament to sit down and read a book about important subjects. He has a different approach: he introduces otherwise “heavy” issues through humour.

And you can’t get much heavier than antisemitism, the hatred of Jews which has been around for more than 2,000 years. But for those lucky enough to be in Edinburgh during this month’s summer Fringe festival, (almost) everything will be explained in Marlon’s new show, How To Be An Antisemite.

The one-hour show follows six years after his groundbreaking production, 2017’s Conspiracy Theory: A Lizard’s Tale, which also opened at the Edinburgh Fringe and had an extraordinary and far-reaching impact, in that it resulted in David Icke’s arena shows being cancelled across Britain and Europe.

Conspiracy hit a nerve with audiences at the peak of the Corbyn-led Labour Party’s dalliance with previously unexpressed antisemitism. Marlon mixed stand-up comedy, song and interactive film and provided an educational, though creative and entertaining, resource for understanding antisemitism.

Now, though, Marlon wanted to explore the issue in more depth. He says: “I don’t think it’s properly understood how antisemitism is hard-wired, baked in to everything from our shared language to the fabric of our culture. It’s so important to understand that if we are to attempt to dismantle this prejudice. In my previous show I talked about antisemitism as being from the Protocols of Zion onwards; but antisemitism had a 2,000 year old history before the Protocols, and I wanted to talk about that”.

How To Be is not, obviously, an action plan for people proposing to express Jewish race hatred. Instead, Marlon uses film clips and interactive comedy in a similar way to Conspiracy, but this time accompanied by a “more dramatic edge”, courtesy of specially written musical score composed by musician Sam Eastmond, who, says Marlon, “is absolutely on the same wavelength as me about this subject.”

He delves into the origins of the blood libel “and how it began in mediaeval England and spread all over the world, because I don’t think that people really know about this. As we are wrestling with some of the darker aspects of British history such as the horrors of colonialism, more people should also know about mediaeval persecution of Jews and what happened, which still has major echoes today.”

He’s not concerned about giving such a weighty issue a comic spin. “I treat the subject with enough reverence, with enough gravitas, to allow myself to be able to make jokes. And I also think there’s a very long and proud history of Jewish people making humour out of the darkest aspects of our persecution. So that’s carrying on quite a rich tradition. I do it in my own style — and you can’t account for everyone’s taste. But if you are just going on stage to talk about how antisemitism is bad — you can’t do that for an hour, you have to entertain people.”

Marlon is keen to emphasise that antisemitism is too often understood through “the prism of dead Jews. There’s a fantastic book, People Love Dead Jews [by Dara Horn]. We don’t understand antisemitism as how it affects Jewish people living today. But I was too shy, and nervous, even to put the word in my previous show. So I made a show about antisemitism in disguise. I used conspiracy theory as a vehicle to explain how antisemitism exists in our society. This new show is unashamedly about antisemitism, and talks about my experiences since the last show”.

How To Be An Antisemite runs from August 4 to 27 at the Gilded Balloon Patter Hoose in Edinburgh (except for August 11), while Marlon Solomon fans can catch up with Conspiracy: A Lizard’s Tale in the afternoons at the Little White Pig on the same dates, part of the Free Fringe events.

  • 7 August, 2023