Deb Filler performs at the Chutzpah! Festival on March 4. (photo from Chutzpah!)
“I’ve performed all over the world, baked challah bread onstage, done shows everywhere, and this is the first time in all these years I am performing in Vancouver live. Delighted to be coming back to do a show! I hope there’ll be more,” Deb Filler told the Independent.
Filler, who will perform at the Chutzpah! Festival on March 4, lived in Vancouver for six months, starting in late 1979.
“I was tempted to stay but never did,” said the comedian, actor, musician, teacher and writer originally from New Zealand. “My career in North America started there. I had an agent and things were going well but New York called, Stella Adler and Uta Hagen, the great acting teachers I studied with. So, I drove across country and the rest as they say….”
While Filler left Vancouver for New York, she has lived in Toronto since 1995.
“I came for a film that was being made of my work, Punch Me in the Stomach, and I stayed and I fell in love,” she said. “Toronto is a terrific city for fun, culture. And it’s close to Europe and New York. I was in New York before that for 15 years, so I guess I’m a bit of a rightie not a leftie – coastie. Not politically, that’s for sure!”
Filler will be bringing her show I Did It My Way in Yiddish (in English) to the Rothstein Theatre for one performance only – March 4, 1 p.m. Described as a journey around the world, “jam-packed” with music (Filler on her guitar) “and a raft of loveable characters she creates,” the initial work was commissioned by the Jewish Community Centre London, called the JW3, as it is located on Finchley Road, NW3. The centre’s tagline is “The postal code for Jewish life.”
“It’s a fantastic modern facility in North London with cafés, art studios, a theatre, meeting places, gallery, classrooms, a school, a film space, a real cultural hub,” said Filler, who had worked with them before the commission. “I’d gotten a great response several times in the past and they were keen for me to come back for their U.K. Jewish Comedy Festival so asked me to perform a new show. I knew – because the stories I tell about meeting and befriending Leonard Bernstein, Leonard Cohen and another Jewish musician called Lenny – that London audiences would respond like audiences have all over the world. So, when they asked, I was delighted to agree, and now the show has been in New York, L.A., Sydney, Toronto, and is coming to Vancouver and D.C.”
Since the commission, the show has changed a bit.
“We made a short dramatic film of one of the stories, which is sometimes screened during the show as a multimedia segment, which Chutzpah! requested. Also, the name has changed to describe the show better than The Three Lennys.”
A March 2017 article on broadwayworld.com describes a bit of the show: “As Deb drives for a car service in New York City, she takes us on a truly incredible ride with Leonard Cohen, reducing the venerable Canadian folksinger to tears of laughter. Her story of meeting Leonard Bernstein as a teen, bringing him fresh challah bread from her father, a survivor of the Holocaust who heard Bernstein play Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue in a displaced persons camp after the war, is extraordinary. What happens next is truly unbelievable.”
One of the things that will happen next for Filler is a trip to Europe. “I’m being invited to Landsberg in Germany as guest of the reunion there of my father’s displaced persons camp, where Leonard Bernstein played and my dad saw him in 1948…. I’m also working on My German Roots Are Showing, which I read in London with actor Miriam Margolyes as my mother. She is fantastic!”
In a conversation a few years ago on Auckland’s Newsbeat (newsbeat.kiwi) with journalist Keren Cook, Filler spoke about Jewish humour and how her family provided a rich environment and offered many resources for her creative expression.
When the Independent asked her about how she takes into account her relatives’ feelings, Filler said, “There are red lines, nothing too personal, but my family are wonderful and amongst my biggest fans, so it’s been a pleasure to perform for them. One relative loved my show Punch Me in the Stomach, but somebody put a worm in her ear and she got defensive so I’ve taken her out of future shows to safeguard any feelings she may have about being exposed. It’s all done with love and admiration, and a bit of comedy of course. So, sometimes one must exaggerate for the laugh. But it’s all good.”
Filler taught at Brown University for 14 years in Providence, R.I., and she teaches at Humber College in Toronto and at Toi Whakaari (New Zealand Drama School), in addition to having private students. “I’ve recently started directing,” she said, “and just had a wonderful show open in Auckland for Pride Festival, called Random Shagger. It’s doing really well.”
She advises aspiring comics about to pick up the mic for the first time, “Be strong! Be brave! Have confidence in your persona. And do it for yourself, not for drunken college students who tend to populate comedy club audiences.”
For tickets to I Did It My Way in Yiddish (in English) and the full Chutzpah! Festival lineup, visit chutzpahfestival.com.