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Jewish Journal

Great Exploitations

by Naomi Pfefferman

June 17, 1999 | 8:00 pm

"I went into therapy because I needed to resolve a horrible conflict," Martin Lewis reveals in his delightfully cheeky one-man show, "Great Exploitations! An Audience With Martin Lewis." "I happen to be obviously British, but also Jewish."

Lewis, who believes he's "the only British-Jewish humorist in the 323 area code," has provided satiric political commentary for MSNBC and "Politically Incorrect." He has been playfully slapped by Sharon Stone while covering the Oscars for ABC and E! and has produced records and movies with Monty Python, plus TV specials on the Beatles and Princess Di. He has created and hosted nine film festivals for the American Cinematique, the latest of which, "Mods and Rockers: Groovy Movies from the Shag-a-delic Sixties!" opens next week and features his one-man show. In his monologue, Lewis reveals that during the '60s and beyond, he "never even took a puff of a joint. Emes."

Rather, he rebelled against the Jews in bowler hats who tried to "pass" as upper-crust Anglo-Saxons at his childhood synagogue. From the age of 5, he stubbornly refused to drink tea. He later cut up his mother's cookbooks and flashed pictures of food at shul on Yom Kippur.

His parents warned him "Don't stand out, don't show off; people will know you're Jewish." Lewis didn't listen. When his snooty Latin teacher proved anti-Semitic, he arranged for the man's obit to run in The Times of London. The teenager was promtply expelled from his exclusive prep school; more innocuous childish pranks set off a series of Kafkaesque events that landed him in a psychiatric clinic for a short period. By the age of 19, however, Lewis had grown up and had secured a writing job with the famed former Beatles publicist, Derek Taylor.

The naughty commercial Lewis created for "The Secret Policeman's Other Ball," a 1982 film starring Monty Python, was censored from practically every TV station in America, he gleefully reports. In the spot, Python's Graham Chapman says he is from the "Oral Majority" and calls for the film to be banned before "It turns us into a nation of perverts." Chapman then stands up and reveals he is wearing black fishnet stockings and a pink tutu. "I was very insistant on it being pink," Lewis says. &'009;

After the spot aired on "Saturday Night Live," Lewis decided to move to America, where he finally felt at home as a Jew. "I felt," he confides, "as if I had arrived in the shtetl."

The "Don't show off" Jewish mandate kept the Brit off camera and offstage for another decade, however. The repressed performer emerged with the help of psychotherapy, and Lewis tentatively ventured into humorous TV work, offering junk food to skeletal supermodels, for example, or querying Anthony Banderas about whether he felt sexy. Lewis became the "Di Guy" for CNBC, E! and other stations, thanks to his unique qualifications. "I had a British accent," he quips.

In his one-man show, Lewis reveals that "Half of me is a stunningly incompetent Sherlock Holmes, consistently failing to solve the mysteries of life, career and romance. The other half is a gloriously bitchy Dr. Watson, gleefully chronicling all my failures. It's very economic. I'm my own Boswell."

"Great Exploitations!" shows June 26 and July 3, 9 p.m., at the Steven Spielberg Theatre at the Egyptian Theatre. Tickets are $10. For information, call (323) 654-4244 or check out Lewis' website at www.martinlewis.com.

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