Ivor Dembina

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Ivor Dembina
Birth nameIvor Joseph Dembina
Born (1951-04-14) 14 April 1951 (age 73)
London, England
MediumStand up, writer, Comedy club curator
Years active1987–present
GenresAlternative comedy
Subject(s)Jewish culture, Current events, Sex, Human interaction, Racism

Ivor Joseph Dembina (born 14 April 1951) is a British stand-up comedian and writer in the alternative tradition from London.[1]


Dembina attributed his early "reputation for generally doing some decent gigs" to having "the brains to make sure there is a microphone facing the right way."[2]

In 1987, together with club promoter, Addison Cresswell, he founded the Comedy Boom venue at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in the basement of the Abercraig Lounge. It was the Edinburgh Festival Fringe's first venue that exclusively hosted stand-up comedy, and ran for five years.[2]

After that, his career veered towards performance. He created and compèred a show called Comic Abuse at Pleasance Courtyard in the late 80s, which became a successful fixture and introduced acts such as Jo Brand and Jack Dee.[2]

Dembina runs the Hampstead Comedy Club in North London, which he founded in 1994.[3] He is cited as an early influence by Stewart Lee.[4] He wrote for the first season of the Omid Djalili Show on BBC1.[5] He appeared in the first season of Eye Spy as 'Jewish Dad' on Channel 4.[6] He was the first stand-up comedian to perform a solo comedy show at the Houses of Parliament.[7][8]

Dembina's comedy focuses on his Jewish background and his political outlook.[9] He toured his show about the Israel-Palestine conflict, 'This is Not a Subject For Comedy', in Israel and on the West Bank.[10] In 1998 he wrote and performed a show entitled SadoJudaism in which he talked about the worlds of fetishism and prostitution through Jewish eyes.[11]

Stewart Lee credits him for correcting his microphone technique during a new act competition in 1990, calling him "the Obi-Wan Kenobi of comedy".[2]

Political stance[edit]

Dembina has attracted attention for his anti-Zionist and socialist views.

In 2004, while on his way to perform stand-up comedy in Israel and the West Bank, Dembina was detained for several hours by Israeli police at Ben Gurion Airport after his name reportedly appeared on a list of "known radicals".[12]

In 2008, Dembina organised a comedy event called "60 Years: What A State" on Israel's independence day, Yom Ha'atzmaut. Featuring Jeremy Hardy, Mark Steel, Reginald D Hunter and Shazia Mirza, it was on the same evening a gala event organised by the Zionist Federation at the Wembley Arena celebrated 60 years of the Israeli state. He branded the gala's headliner, American comedian Jackie Mason, a "bad Jewish joke", citing Mason's support for Israel and that comedian Ray Hanania, of Palestinian descent, had been dropped from supporting Mason on tour in 2002. Dembina said: "Never mind Israel not wanting to share Jerusalem with Palestinians, he won't even share a stage with one."[13]

In 2011, Dembina threatened legal action and called for an investigation after a protester interrupted his Edinburgh Fringe preview show at a Jewish community centre in Golders Green, accusing him of performing a "tame version for a Jewish audience" and demanding that he reveal his anti-Israel views.[14] Other activists picketed outside and handed out flyers.[14] Ivor said afterwards: "In 25 years in Jewish comedy, during which I have performed both in Britain and abroad—including in Israel—this is the first time someone has attended a performance of mine with the apparent intention of sabotaging it."[14]

In late 2013 and early 2014, Dembina joined other artists and writers including Nigel Kennedy, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and Mark Steel at St James's Church, Piccadilly for Bethlehem Unwrapped, a festival during the Christmas season that drew attention to the Israeli West Bank barrier.[15]

In 2014, Dembina caused consternation among sections of the Jewish community for organising a benefit show for the people of the Gaza Strip with Daniel Kitson, Josie Long and fellow Jewish comic Andy Zaltzman.[16]

Also in 2014, he angered some other Jewish comedians by banning them from his club because they publicly endorsed and received payment from the Jewish National Fund.[17][18][19][20][21]

In February 2015, he joined 700 other UK artists including Brian Eno, Mike Leigh and Liz Lochhead as a signatory to a cultural boycott of Israel.[22][23]

In 2015, Dembina also attracted the interest of the political community for his willingness to use sensitive subjects such as the Holocaust, Israel and Jewish stereotypes in his material.[24]

Dembina is a Labour Party member of the Vauxhall Constituency Labour Party.[25] In April 2016, he was one of 82 Jewish members and supporters of the Labour Party and of Jeremy Corbyn's leadership who wrote an open letter to The Guardian stating that they "do not accept that antisemitism is 'rife' in the Labour party" and that "these accusations are part of a wider campaign against the Labour leadership, and they have been timed particularly to do damage to the Labour party and its prospects in elections in the coming week."[26]

Notable performances and tours[edit]

The Cochrane Theatre[edit]

In 1994 Dembina hosted a benefit for Jewish Socialist magazine at the Cochrane Theatre with Jo Brand, Jeremy Hardy, Linda Smith and Arnold Brown[27]

Middle East[edit]

Dembina toured Israel and the West Bank with his show This is Not a Subject for Comedy in 2003.[10]

Houses of Parliament[edit]

He performed the first comedy gig at the UK Houses of Parliament in 2010.[7][8]

Edinburgh shows[edit]

Dembina has performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe since 1991.[28][29]

Show Title Co-performer/Guests Year Venue
Comic Abuse Compere Ivor Dembina with Jack Dee, Jo Brand, Mark Thomas, Phil Cornwall, Felix Dexter, Dave Cohen, James Macabre, Patrick Marber and Jim Tavare 1988–1993 The Pleasance
Stand Up Jewish Comedy solo show 1994 The Pleasance
Arab and the Jew Omid Djalili 1998 The Pleasance
Ivor Dembina: Jewish Comedy – Free at Last solo show 2007 Linsay's Basement
This is Not a Subject for Comedy solo show 2008 Espionage
Laughing Horse Free Comedy Selection Compere Ivor Dembina with a mixed bill 2008 Espionage
Free Jewish Comedy solo show 2011 The Counting House
Ivor's Other Show solo show 2011 The Counting House
Old Jewish Jokes solo show 2012 Bar 50
Old Jewish Jokes solo show 2013 Bar 50
Zapp & Dembina – Comedy After Lunch Andy Zapp and guests 2013 Cowgatehead
Free Gaza! Daniel Kitson, Josie Long and Andy Zaltzman 2014 The Gilded Balloon
Old Jewish Jokes solo show 2014 The Gilded Balloon
Zapp & Dembina Andy Zapp and guests 2014 Cowgatehead
New Jewish Jokes solo show 2015 The Stand Comedy Club
Old Jewish Jokes solo show 2015 Finnegan's Wake
I Should Have Listened to Ivor Dembina solo show 2016 The Stand Comedy Club
Old Jewish Jokes solo show 2016 Finnegan's Wake
Ivor Dembina Show solo show 2017 The Counting House
Old Jewish Jokes solo show 2017 Finnegan's Wake
Old Jewish Jokes solo show 2018 Finnegan's Wake
Old Jewish Jokes solo show 2019 Finnegan's Wake
The Joy of Jokes solo show 2019 The Place
Old Jewish Jokes solo show 2021 The Counting House
Old Jewish Jokes solo show 2022 Bar 50
Old Jewish Jokes solo show 2023 Bar 50
Millwall Jew solo show 2023 Bar 50

Written works[edit]

An early work was the musical play A Week Is A Long Time In Politics about the 1981 Hillmarton By-election in Islington and performed at The Old Red Lion theatre pub there.

Dembina has contributed to many comedy books and been featured in several others.


Title Editor Released Publisher Notes
Because I Tell a Joke or Two: Comedy, Politics and Social Difference Stephen Wagg 2004 Routledge ISBN 978-1-134-79433-1
Getting the Joke: The Art of Stand-up Comedy Oliver Double 2005 A&C Black ISBN 978-0-413-77476-7
Funny You Should Say That: A Compendium of Jokes, Quips and Quotations from Cicero to the Simpsons Andrew Martin 2006 Penguin ISBN 978-0-14-051509-1
Dim Wit: The Funniest, Stupidest Things Ever Said Rosemarie Jarski 2008 Random House ISBN 978-1-4070-2468-4
How to Be Averagely Successful at Comedy Dave Cohen 2013 Acorn Independent Press ISBN 978-1-909121-61-4
Performing Live Comedy Chris Ritchie 2013 A&C Black ISBN 978-1-4081-4643-9
Words from the Wise: Over 6,000 of the Smartest Things Ever Said Rosemarie Jarski 2013 Skyhorse Publishing, Inc ISBN 978-1-62873-273-3

Comedy clubs[edit]

Since 1985, Dembina has founded and run several comedy clubs. The Hampstead Comedy Club is the only one still operating.[when?]

  • Founded the Red Rose Comedy Club in Finsbury Park, London in 1985.[30]
  • Founded the Comedy Boom with club promoter, Addison Cresswell in Edinburgh in 1987. The Edinburgh Festival Fringe's first venue for Stand-Up Comedy.[31][2]
  • Founded the Hampstead Comedy Club in 1994. It was originally held at the Washington Arms in Belsize Park, London. It currently resides at the Camden Head in Camden Town, London.[32]
  • Founded the Brixton Comedy Club in the Hobgoblin, Brixton, London in 1999.[33]

Critical opinion[edit]

The Skinny magazine commented that there is something "modest and eternal" about him.[2] He won a Malcolm Hardee award in 2022,[34] and the 'Editors Pick of the Fringe' award at the 2019 Edinburgh Fringe.[35]


The University of Kent holds material relating to Dembina's career as part of the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive.[36] The collection includes audiovisual material, press cuttings and business records that relate to his work as both comedian and club promoter.[36]


  1. ^ Logan, Brian (25 March 2010). "Ivor Dembina review". The Guardian.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Venables, Ben (6 June 2017). "How Comedy Captured the Edinburgh Fringe: Part 3". The Skinny. Retrieved 13 October 2017.
  3. ^ "Comedian Ivor Dembina on how money and TV altered British alternative comedy". John Fleming's Blog. 10 March 2014.
  4. ^ Lee, Stewart (2010). How I escaped my certain fate: the life and deaths of a stand-up comedian. London: Faber and Faber. ISBN 978-0-571-25480-4.
  5. ^ "The Omid Djalili Show Cast and Crew". British Comedy Guide. Retrieved 31 August 2014.
  6. ^ "Eye Spy Cast and Crew". Internet Movie Database (IMDb).
  7. ^ a b Logan, Brian (16 March 2010). "Ivor Dembina Parliament Stand-Up". The Guardian.
  8. ^ a b "Observations: A comic Strip in Westminster". The Independent Newspaper. Retrieved 31 August 2014.
  9. ^ "Old Jewish Jokes 2014 review". The Scotsman.
  10. ^ a b "A perfect Subject for Comedy". Hanitzotz Publishing House.
  11. ^ "Beats me what they see in sado- masochism". The Scotsman.
  12. ^ "Comic detained in Israel". Chortle.
  13. ^ "Mason rapped for Zionist gigl". Chortle.
  14. ^ a b c "Demonstrators picket comic's Ivy House performance". The Jewish Chronicle.
  15. ^ "Bethlehem Unwrapped". PSC.
  16. ^ "FREE GAZA!". Gilded Balloon Edinburgh Fringe Website.
  17. ^ "JNF Boycott". The Jewish Chronicle.
  18. ^ "Racist Charity blacklisted". The Independent Newspaper. 16 December 2014.
  19. ^ "Is the JNF Racist?". The Jewish News.
  20. ^ "Jewish Community Divided". Beyond the Joke blog. 12 December 2014.
  21. ^ "The JNF Hit Back". The Jewish Chronicle.
  22. ^ "Cultural Boycott of Israel". The Guardian. 13 February 2015.
  23. ^ "Artists For Palestine".
  24. ^ "Jewish Jokes Not Antisemitic". The Independent Newspaper.
  25. ^ "A statement from Jewish Labour members on the current attacks on Jeremy Corbyn". Jewish Voice for Labour. 26 March 2018. Retrieved 1 June 2018.
  26. ^ "Labour, antisemitism and where Jeremy Corbyn goes from here". The Guardian. 29 April 2016. Retrieved 1 June 2018.
  27. ^ "Jewish Socialist Group". Jewish Socialist Group.
  28. ^ "Comedian Ivor Dembina". Chortle Comedy Website. Retrieved 31 August 2014.
  29. ^ "Ivor Dembina shows". University of Glasgow Scottish Theatre Archive.
  30. ^ "Red Rose Club". Seven Sisters Stories. Archived from the original on 5 March 2016. Retrieved 26 November 2014.
  31. ^ "How To Promote a Fringe Show". How To Promote a Fringe Show. 4 October 2010.
  32. ^ "Hampstead Comedy Club". Hamptead Comedy Club.
  33. ^ "Brixton Comedy Club". Brixton Comedy Club.
  34. ^ "2022 Malcolm Hardee Awards winners revealed". British Comedy Guide. 27 August 2022.
  35. ^ https://www.angelcomedy.co.uk/event-detail/ivor-dembina-millwall-jew-9th-jul-the-bill-murray-london-tickets-202307091600/
  36. ^ a b "Ivor Dembina Collection". Special Collections and Archives - University of Kent. 6 December 2021. Retrieved 15 May 2024.

External links[edit]