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Thursday, September 18, 2014

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Comedy veteran releases indie album

Tags: Arts Simon Rakoff Surrounded by Idiots
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Simon Rakoff likes to challenge stereotypes about Jews.

For over 36 years, comedian Simon Rakoff has entertained audiences with his distinctive take on society, technology, religion and relationships. Now, with the launch of his first independently released CD, Surrounded By Idiots, fans of this funny man can enjoy his humour anytime, anywhere.

“The world has changed,” says Rakoff, 54, who began performing stand-up at 17. “The democratization of the technology has made it possible for anybody to put stuff out now, because distribution is automatic. The most expensive part was actually printing CDs, but those are to sell when I’m performing live to make a little extra money on the road.”

Rakoff’s original idea was to do an edited album based on a number of shows that he recorded in Ottawa. Although the live shows went well, he wasn’t entirely happy with the recording, so he booked the Dominion on Queen in Toronto and hired a local producer. 

“I invited a crowd down so I wouldn’t be under the pressure to entertain a paying audience,” he says. “I set up a live venue almost like a studio and then recorded it in one shot.” 

He recorded the CD in a style reminiscent of 1961 Grammy-winning album, The Button-Down Mind Of Bob Newhart, in that he asked his audience to respond with applause and laughter only, and not with whoops and whistles. 

Rakoff says he comes from a creative family. Born in South Africa to parents who are both doctors, Rakoff moved to Montreal when he was just six months old, and later to Toronto when he was seven years old. His brother David also made a living in comedy, and became known for his autobiographical essays, many of which he read on CBC’s WireTap and WBEZ’s This American Life, until he died of cancer in 2012.

Rakoff has one daughter named Zoe, 13, whom he describes as hilarious.

“I enjoy being with interesting people because comedians value original thought and expression,” he says, referring to his family.

As far as content, Rakoff describes his act as a reflection of himself. When it comes to including Jewish humour, he says he has one joke about how when he’s in remote areas of the country, there’s always a large and close-knit non-Jewish community.

“[That] always gets a laugh because only Jews think of the world as Jewish or not Jewish, but really, mostly it’s not Jewish,” he says. “So, I’m aware, when I do my act in these towns, that I might be the only Jewish person they have really ever seen or heard talking about being Jewish.”

He says he likes to challenge the stereotypes people have about Jews. For example, he’ll tell them “that we are responsible for many of the great advances of the world and not just all the wars, and running the banks and the media… which is a popular and inaccurate assessment.” 

Although technology has changed the industry to make solitary listening easy, Rakoff says comedy albums still have social listening potential, where after listening to it, you play it for friends.

“I made the album... as if you were watching a show in a club,” he says. “My hope is that an album is a way to get to people I can’t physically get to, and it’s a nice souvenir, if you do enjoy my work.”

And, he adds, it’s also a good way to share his jokes, “because it would be expensive to hire me to come to your house and do it for your friends.”

Simon Rakoff’s CD Surrounded By Idiots is available at simonrakoff.com.

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