The Schmear Chronicles


Debbie Filler: The Jew Crush

She’s New Zealand’s only Jewish comedian (who lives in Canada)

If you’re in New Zealand and have a hankering for some Jewy comedy — you better track down Debbie Filler. Dubbing herself “New Zealand’s only Jewish comic”, Deborah Rachel “Deb” Filler, has long since taken her talents around the world after discovering her penchant for performing as a child in Auckland. Filler, 62, was born to a German Jewish mother and a Polish Jewish father, both of whom survived the Holocaust. Proving that from tragedy springs comedy, Filler has infused much of her material with stories from her parents’ life and experiences in concentration camps. Most recently, the name of Filler’s new solo show, “I Did It My Way in Yiddish (In English),” draws from her father’s insistence that famous musicians would have seen even more success if they had recorded all their songs in Yiddish. At first she titled the show “All My Lennys,” referencing the impact both Leonard Cohen and Leonard Bernstein had on her as an artist and person. Originally commissioned by the London Jewish community and cultural center JW3, Filler’s newest show will premiere in Canada at Toronto’s Factory Theatre after a one-night run in New New York. Catch her at New York’s Metropolitan Room on May 4th or at Toronto’s Factory Theatre from May 23th –28th.

Seven reasons we have a Jew crush on Debbie Filler:

1. Denied the murder of Jesus. It might sound atypical that a little Jewish girl who is a descendant from Holocaust survivors spent her childhood in a school, (Mt. Roskill Primary), where a local Presbyterian vicar regularly preached to the students over a loudspeaker. One day when he took to the intercom to inform the entire school that the Jews had killed Jesus, 9-year-old Filler let the vicar know that her family had no part in Jesus’ death, causing him to publicly repudiate his statement. That’s some pretty powerful and funny stuff, whatever god you believe in.

2. Rock and roller. Despite being a successful writer, performer and actor, Filler’s first love was music. And it’s not just a hobby. After getting encouragement from Peter Paul and Mary to continue singing folk songs when she was a child, she picked up the guitar and in a way hasn’t put it down. She’s been the lead singer in a number of rock and roll bands as well as a founding member of two  prominent New Zealand punk cabaret groups. When she was 20 she met Leonard Bernstein, who was so moved to learn that her father had attended his concert for Holocaust survivors at the Landsberg Displaced Person’s camp in 1948 near Munich, that he closed the Auckland Town Hall to play a private piano concerto for Filler. Following that, Bernstein became a mentor to her, both professionally and personally. Not too shabby.

3. Teacher. Filler chose to pass down her knowledge. After spending a year at the Machon L’Madrichei Chutz La’Aretz leadership insititute in Israel, she enrolled at the Auckland College of Education as a teacher trainee.Teaching music, theater and English at area schools for three years, she created a musical called “Giz A Go Travelling Road Show,” touring with her students in a borrowed painted bus (Anyone else getting Jewish Ms. Frizzle vibes?)

4. Center stage.  Filler’s first big solo show “Punch Me in the Stomach”, in which she played 36 characters (two times chai anyone?) has toured internationally after opening off-Broadway at the New York Theatre Workshop in 1992 following winning “Critic’s Pick” at the New Zealand International Festival of the Arts. Opening the New York Jewish Museum’s refurbished theatre, the show was adapted to a film by documentarian Francine Zuckerman. Following was her solo show “FILLER UP!” (a measly 27 character play), in which she bakes a loaf of challah onstage linking the act to her father’s liberation. She’s also written the short films “Ladies and Gentlemen: Biddie Schitzerman” in which she starred and co-wrote “Trip.”In addition, she co-wrote “Mr. Bernstein,” a short film as an ode to his major impact on her.

5. Woman power. One of the more obvious gifts she gives to the world is her ability to make people laugh. But Filler uses her talents for the greater good. She has played music in the Backstreet Women’s Theatre, a company formed by feminists in the New Zealand Women’s Movement. The group formed in response to an anti-abortion bill, which was repealed.

6. Private Lenny performance (another one). Most people in this world would be lucky to get serenaded by one famous musician — for Filler it happened twice. When she was working her way up she took a job at a car service driver, and one of her passengers was the late Leonard Cohen. From the backseat he played his new song at the time, “I’m Your Man” while on his way to meet LA executives. Proving the ride memorable, Cohen later gave Filler the rights to one of his songs for the film adaptation of “Punch Me in the Stomach.” Talk about the significance of first impressions.

7. Resounding voice. Not only a mouthpiece for her own stories, Filler voices the Peg Bundy doll and “Mummy” in the animated series, “Bob and Margaret.” The award winning Canadian/English adult television series airs all over the world. Based on the Academy Award winning short film “Bob’s Birthday,” the show is the highest rated animated series ever made in Canada. Now that’s what we’re talking a-boot.

Debbie Filler



stand up comedy

Leonard Cohen

Leonard Bernstein

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