How does a nice Jewish girl from Essex, UK, become an up-and-coming comedian? Sounds like an episode from The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, right?
Well, Rachel Creeger is the real deal who has taken the comedy world by storm and her routine, “It’s No Job for a Nice Jewish Girl,” is coming to Israel at the end of March.
Speaking to In Jerusalem about her journey into comedy and her upcoming shows, Creeger said that she has always loved comedy.
“As a teenager, I used to go to as many gigs as possible,” she said. “About 10 years ago, I left my full-time job to work as a playwright and theater director. I specialized in dark, immersive comedic work, which was really great fun. I also worked with charities and community groups on arts projects."
In early 2011, a comedian friend suggested to Creeger that “we try and run a few Edinburgh Fringe Festival previews together as charity events.”
She said that they ran four, “which were very successful and one of the venues then approached us about opening a regular comedy club there.”
The comedy club Upstairs at the Adam & Eve “is now a well-loved gig on the UK circuit where established comedians come and try out their new material in front of a warm and friendly audience.”
Now in its eighth season, “we have showcased work by some of the biggest names in UK comedy and I am the resident host.”
Up until three years ago, comedy was very much her side thing, “as I was so focused on theater, but I had begun to feel a bit of an itch to try and give it a proper go."
“I was writing for and directing other stand-ups and often wondered why I was giving my best work to them. What was preventing me from taking that leap?” she said, adding that at the time she was emceeing fairly regularly, performing now and then, and hosting community events while also doing some kids’ comedy as well as the theatrical work.
A few of Creeger’s professional comedian friends had picked up on this and started challenging her to move into the comedy scene.
“They were incredibly supportive and complimentary, and also very pushy!” she said jokingly. “I decided to give it a try, but rather than ask my peers for spots at their pro or semi-pro gigs, I chose to go right back to the beginning and spend six months on the open mic circuit, partly to test myself and partly because within the industry there is some negativity towards people who jump the process without ‘earning their stripes.’”
For her, taking this route was a massive learning curve.
“I knew how to write 20 minutes of entertaining material, but not a tight five minutes of jokes," she said. "I was used to audiences finding me amusing and had to develop coping strategies for dying on stage!
“Charity dinner audiences usually sit quietly and clap politely, drunken groups of hen and stag parties, not so much,” Creeger said.
After six months, she started writing “It’s No Job for a Nice Jewish Girl,” and “[I] was blown away by its success.”
Creeger grew up in Chigwell, Essex, in the United Kingdom with a love for theater, comedy and music.
“At the time, Essex was the largest Jewish community in Europe, so socially it was an amazing place to be a Jewish teenager with pretty much every youth group having a base there,” she continued. “It was also a great area for arts opportunities. I was involved in community theater, choirs and shows.”
Each year there was a Jewish song contest for Yom Ha’Atzmaut in the Jewish Community Center.
“A little known fact about me is that one year I wrote the winning song, but also performed in the groups that came second and third! Last year I had one of my tour dates back on that stage at the JCC and it was a really special moment.”
A lot of comedians working the circuit inspire Creeger, but her all-time favorite comedian “was the late Victoria Wood, who was able to tie together humor and pathos in a way that touched your heart.”
Wood, who died in 2016, was most famous for her writing and starring role in BBC sitcom Dinnerladies, the TV movie Housewife, 49, as well as numerous comedy stand-up routines.
“She was the most wonderful writer and immensely generous toward her casts and co-performers,” Creeger said. “She gave the best lines to whoever would deliver them the best. Her sitcom Dinnerladies still makes me howl with laughter.”
Although she has spoken and run comedy workshops in Israel many times and performed occasionally on mixed line-ups at English gigs, Creeger’s visit later this month is the first time she is touring with a show in Israel.
“I’m so excited about it, especially as the English-speaking comedy circuit is booming at the moment,” she emphasized. “Since my first performance in May 2017, I’ve had Israeli friends and family members asking whether I would bring the show over, but it’s really since the UK tour and performing it at Limmud that I’ve had the same requests from strangers!”
Creeger said that the story is very relatable, which “may be why it has won so many hearts, and it’s also a lot of fun. I’m coming with a fantastic support act, Philip Simon, who is an accomplished comedian, great friend and one of my favorite comics. We work together regularly and he was the natural choice.”
Creeger is honest about the fact that it hasn’t always been smooth sailing.
“One of the most difficult aspects of working in the comedy industry for me is being away from my family. My youngest is 13 and I’ve been in the entertainment industry since he was a baby, so he’s well used to my weird timetable.”
Creeger says her husband and children are supportive and continue to encourage her to take every opportunity, “but I miss them a lot when I’m away, especially the four weeks of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in the summer. Modern technology means that we can be in constant contact and I’m grateful for that.”
Another issue is finding the balance between being religious requirements and performing times.
“The UK comedy scene peaks on Friday and Saturday nights. I don’t ever perform on a Friday night and can only play about 16 Saturday nights each year across the winter months,” she said. “It can also be a challenge working out kosher food and Shabbat-friendly travel arrangements."
“I am who I am and I’m not going to try and be anything else!” she emphasized. “Whether I’m performing for shuls and Jewish charities or in pubs and clubs across the UK, my act is more or less the same, I dress the same, tichel and all, and people can take me as they find me.”
She added that generally, both audiences and acts “are welcoming and interested in hearing a different voice."
“There have been issues with antisemitism and anti-Zionism. I’ve tried where possible to deal with those through dialogue and where that’s not possible, I have powered through doing my thing with my head held up,” she said.
On keeping her shows funny but clean, Creeger said that because she started out performing in the community and also for kids or family-friendly shows, “I have always been a swear-free act. I don’t think it’s necessary to be blue in order to be funny. Often the laughs are more for the shock value."
“Also, observational-style comedy lends itself to a cleaner set,” she said, “Having said that, like any technique, language can be used judiciously in order to make a humorous point, but it needs to be used in an intelligent way.”
Creeger is writing a new show that she hopes to take to Edinburgh this summer.
“I already have dates booked to preview it in Wales, Manchester, Oxford and London," she said. "The show is called ‘Hinayni!’ and it’s about being seen for who you really are.”
Her message of encouragement to religious girls who are a nervous about coming out and performing emphasizes the importance “of being true to yourself and the gifts that you have. What is right for one person isn’t necessarily the path for another,” she said. “I identify as Modern Orthodox and have spent time in learning. Everything I do, I have learned the different views on and use the knowledge to inform my decisions.
This is something she actually touches on in her show “It’s No Job for a Nice Jewish Girl.”
“Within the community, I have experienced quite a bit of hostility from certain groups because I appear on stage and draw attention to myself, while others have given support and told me that what I do is a kiddush HaShem, showing non-Jewish audiences that Jews aren’t perhaps as they expect. Ultimately, this is a personal choice and like any art form it won’t appeal to everyone. You can’t force everyone to like you and those people are not my audience.”
Rachel Creeger will be performing in Israel March 27 to April 1. Info and tickets: www.rachelcreeger.com/gig-listings
Follow Rachel on Twitter, @RachCreeger; Instagram, @rachcreeger; and Facebook, RachelCreegerComedianWriterDirector.
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