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February 20, 2011 / Siobhan Argent

Jewish Chronicles

Publised 9/4/10 at

I often find the definition of humour quite mysterious. The term can be stretched to cover good and bad, funny and offensive, as well as different genres of performance. The Melbourne International Comedy Festival has never been afraid to stretch the boundaries of what ‘comedy’ defines, and this is a perfect example. Daniel Cainer’s Jewish Chronicles sits somewhere in the no-man’s land of this definition. It is not a laugh-a-minute show, but this is not the intention.

Cainer’s show aims to encapsulate the Jewish tradition by mixing Jewish-themed songs with amusing anecdotes about Cainer’s childhood and adult life following the star of David. Mixing light banter with lengthy songs about  subjects including Monty and Morris in ‘The Tale of Two Taylors’ with ancestrally-themed ballads, the highlight of which includes his swan song about the extramarital escapades of his parents. It’s a light-hearted look at Judaism and the humorous ways in which Jewish tradition has infiltrated everyday life, including the oh-so-cliche Jewish phrases.

As a sort  of tribute to Jewish tradition and history it passes well, obviously attracting mainly Jewish and Yiddish people to its audience. As a non-Jew, I found the parlay between Cainer and his Jewish contemporaries entertaining and educational. Anyone who wants to imagine using Jewish paraphernalia as bongs would get a nice image from Cainer’s colourful descriptions of a naughty Rabbi. And for non-Jewish people, Cainer ensures they are kept in the loop on Jewish terminology, particularly when it pertains to a critical moment in the performance.

If you can make it through the sometimes overly-long tunes about long lost grandparents, you get a glimpse, as the very least, of Cainer’s understanding of his past and how that has influenced his eventual path back towards religion (after falling off the wagon in his early adulthood). Including the audience, particularly engaging with the Jewish and Yiddish audience members, enhances the communal atmosphere that Cainer does his best to encourage.

However, the comedy could sometimes be a little too disparate. The atmosphere was certainly genial, but long songs about family and lyrics that, unfortunately, have been used before, can make the show somewhat dry at times. Luckily, these are contrasted with shining moments of lyrical brilliance, including the tongue-twistingly fast Bad Rabbi and his swan song, which sets the stage over at least five minutes for a clever final punchline.

I admire his subject selection, particularly since it is hard to translate that subject into audience numbers, but Cainer has clearly thought out his subject matter and acts as a filter for non-Jewish audience members, filling listeners in on all the terminology they need to know.

If you like courage and a relaxed atmosphere, Daniel Cainer can take you where you want to go.


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