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How a Canadian comedy duo are bringing their 'Yidlife crisis' to Germany

Shannon Chaffers
Shannon Chaffers
How a Canadian comedy duo are bringing their 'Yidlife crisis' to Germany
Photo: Yidlife Crisis

Eli Batalion and Jamie Elman, creators of hit online series YidLife Crisis, will bring their comedic take on modern Jewish life to Germany next week with dates at the Berlin Jewish Film Festival and in Munich.

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“The best thing since sliced bagels.” 

That’s how Canadian actors and childhood friends Eli Batalion and Jamie Elman describe their comedy duo YidLife Crisis, which is hoping to make a splash in Germany this summer, starting at next week’s Berlin Jewish Film Festival.  

Batalion and Elman formed YidLife Crisis almost 10 years ago. They started off by making a comedy web series that explored modern Jewish identity through skit-length, Yiddish-language episodes set mostly in Montreal, where they grew up. One popular episode, for example, playfully examines the North American Jewish tradition of eating at a Chinese restaurant on Christmas Eve. 

The show has been a success: it now has three seasons, and the pair have gone on to create English-language travel shows and documentaries. In total, they’ve wracked up over three million views, and they also regularly put on live performances. 

The group’s name is a play on the “midlife crisis” Batalion and Elman faced as their careers in the entertainment industry took them to Hollywood, and away from their Jewish upbringing.

“Somewhere at a midlife-ish point, we were trying to reconcile our formative intense Jewish education with an adulthood that was in arts and entertainment in a totally non-Jewish context," the duo explained in an email chat with The Local. "We decided to work together on a project that brought together various elements of our Jewish upbringing in Montreal with the skills we’d acquired as performers and filmmakers."

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While YidLife’s main audience is based in North America, their content has also travelled overseas. Likely aided by the similarities between Yiddish and German, it has struck a particular chord in Germany.

Batalion and Elman experienced this resonance first-hand during their inaugural performance in the country about a year and a half ago.  

“We were invited to perform in Frankfurt and it went over fantastisch!” they said. “This breaks down the wall to Berlin, and well, here we are.”

READ ALSO: 7 unmissable events in Germany this June

For this trip, the group has partnered with the Canadian Embassy to Germany, who see the tour as valuable chance to foster cultural exchange.

"This project represents an ideal opportunity for these two popular comedians from Montreal to get enhanced exposure in Europe," Jean Ducharme, the Embassy's councillor for Cultural Diplomacy, Education, and Youth, told The Local.

"It will allow the German audience to learn more about the Montreal Jewish Community as well as about English-speaking stand up comedians from Quebec, increasing their awareness of the linguistic plurality of Canada."

'Local sphere'

During the six-day festival, they’ll be screening their documentary films about Jewish life in Montreal (CHEWDAISM: A Taste of Jewish Montreal) and Krakow (Narishkayt: YidLife Crisis in Krakow), in addition to “Yingl Belz,” the aforementioned Christmas Eve episode. They’ve also curated a variety of Canadian films for the festival.

On Thursday, June 15th, they will perform their flagship live show at the Jewish Museum Berlin. In English, with a sprinkling of Yinglish (Yiddish English) mixed in, it will explore Jewish life in the German capital through a combination of comedic performance, music, and general shtick

Photo of Jewish Comedy duo Yidlife Crisis

Photo: Yidlife Crisis

Bernd Buder, the festival’s programme director, said he believes Batalion and Elman’s “humour and sharp analysis of interhuman relations, cultural codes, social (mis)understandings and, of course, the relation between history and current experience” will enrich the festival’s offerings.

“I am pretty sure the audience will trust Yidlife Crisis’ taste,” he said.

Battalion and Elman will then cap off their Germany tour - which is being run in partnership with the Canadian Embassy - with another live performance in Munich, this time focusing on life in the Bavarian capital.  

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We pride ourselves on going deep into the local sphere everywhere we go, so that no two shows are alike,” they said. “At the Berlin show, we’ll make fun of the Munichers, and at the Munich show, we’ll make fun of the Berliners.”

READ ALSO: The Israeli intellectuals making Berlin more Hebrew than ever before

'Common ground'

After the Germany stint, Batalion and Elman will turn their attention to a television program they are working on, which they say will explore the “Arab-Israeli conflict as seen through the eyes of Left vs. Right American politics.”

The project speaks to their belief that their brand of comedy can help build bridges between Jewish culture and others around the world, even if those relationships can be fraught.

Yidlife Crisis

Photo: Yidlife Crisis

“We fear that political forces tend to polarise opinions towards agendas, whereas the overwhelming vast majority of us [Jews and Arabs] actually have tonnes of common ground, common interests and even common background,” they said. 

“We think that particularly with the power of the internet and the fact that we’re coming from a very pure place with this, with zero ‘creative control’ or impetus from anyone, comedy can prevail as the voice of sanity.”

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The group eventually hopes to return to Germany as well. But for now, they’ll be satisfied with their Berlin and Munich adventures if they make good on their two other goals: “One: maintain at least the same weight as when we left for the trip. Two: bring laughter and a taste of Yiddish to the Germans, regardless of background.”

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