David Baddiel: ‘I went to school in tzitzit and a kippah and came home to bacon and eggs’

David Baddiel: ‘I went to school in tzitzit and a kippah and came home to bacon and eggs’

David Baddiel chats to Fiona Leckerman about his new one-man show, billed as a ‘massively disrespectful’ celebration of his parents

Fiona Green is a features writer

David Baddiel
David Baddiel

David Baddiel is feeling a little husky. It’s the morning after the night before, having just opened his new one-man show, My Family: Not the Sitcom – and his voice is clearly a little worse for wear.

That, he says, is down to numerous shocking revelations that he makes about his family, that require him to raise his voice in an impassioned manner.

“I’m not an actor that can project from the buttocks,” explains the 51-year-old comedian. “And even though I know what’s coming, when I talk about my parents’ behaviour, this involves me doing quite a lot of shouting.”

My Family: Not the Sitcom, which has a six-week run at the Menier Chocolate Factory, is a show that celebrates Baddiel’s parents as complicated individuals.

First there’s his mother, Sarah, a refugee who escaped as a young child with her parents from Nazi Germany.

Baddiel, the middle of three sons who grew up in Dollis Hill, tells me Sarah was different to her conservative parents, who kept stories about their past close to their chests.

A Baddiel family picture at the beach
David Baddiel on holiday with brothers Ivor and Dan and parents Colin and Sarah.

“I only found out very late in my grandma’s life about her brother, who had died in the Warsaw Ghetto, but my mother was the opposite; she was very open.”

By all accounts, she was also a “wild, whirling, golf and sex-obsessed” woman, whose quirks and penchants would otherwise have been forgotten in later years, by those who only knew her as a synagogue volunteer.

“She would have been over the moon having a show about her. She loved being in the spotlight – and basking in my reflective spotlight,” concedes Baddiel laughing, his voice croaky with the exertion.

“Of course, there are some bits she may have preferred I leave out.”

Surprisingly, that doesn’t include his mother’s infidelity and indeed, Baddiel even reads out extracts from emails written to her long-term lover that are full of sex.

“She was very keen to tell people about the affair; she had no real boundaries and no sense of shame,” he explains. “Although that led to all sorts of discomfort, it is also kind of brilliant.”

Another Baddiel family photo
Toddler David with his parents at a family function.

Two years ago, Sarah died unexpectedly from pneumonia, aged 75. In the aftermath of dealing with her passing, Baddiel conceived the idea for the warts-and-all, yet affectionate show, which he describes as a celebration of his parents.

“When my mum died, a lot of people were telling me how wonderful she was and I thought they didn’t really know her or what she was really like. I felt the way we enshrine the dead and their memory by talking in very hallow terms about them is actually very negative. It flattens out the memory of people.”

Much of the show is also dedicated to his Welsh-born father, Colin, 81, whose parents were Russian immigrants settling in Swansea. For the past eight years, Colin has suffered from Pick’s disease, a form of dementia.

“He was much less emotionally open than my mum, but was very sweary and happy to make graphic jokes about sex. He had a different kind of taboo-breaking quality. Coupled together, it has made me shameless with a very high tolerance of obscenity. I think this is due to my parents.”

familypic4He especially credits his father with encouraging his love for comedy.

“My dad was a funny bloke. He told loads of jokes, he was a big catchphrase man and a true lad, much more a lad than I ever was. He liked banter and at some level, that’s all he is now.”

Baddiel, who lives in north London with his partner, comedian Morwenna Banks, and their two children, describes his family as “a bank of absurd, humiliating and comically ridiculous stories”.

So far the reaction from relatives has been positive, partly due to the show being a “love letter” to his parents.

“It involves talking about things that most people would think are negative, but it does so in a very celebratory way. When people come out of the show, they all have a very specific clear sense of who my parents were. I’m trying to make you feel like you grew up with me.”

Aside from family, Baddiel addresses his own sense of Jewishness – against the backdrop of acknowledging himself as a staunch atheist – as well as the subject of anti-Semitism.

The latter is a topic that Baddiel is never afraid to speak about, something he believes comes from his father’s “very blokey, muscular, up-for-a-fight nature”.

He also revels in his Jewish upbringing as a type of religious mish-mash and tells me: “I was going to school wearing tzitzit and a kippah and coming home to bacon and eggs.”

So there you have it, Baddiel’s personal life laid bare on stage in the most affectionate, yet comical way.

As he himself explains, the show “takes the stuff in my life that might seem very grim and turns it in to comedy. That’s the alchemy”.

Speaking of alchemy, Baddiel needs to find a way to transform that huskiness. And with that, he excuses himself to steam his voice ahead of that night’s performance.

• My Family: Not the Sitcom runs at the Menier Chocolate Factory until 25 June. Details: 020 7378 1713 or

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