Daphna Baram Comedian
How did you find your university experience, and what societies were you a part of?
I was very politically active at university - bear in mind we are talking about twenty-five years ago and in Israel you have a gap between high school and university in which you do your obligatory military service (two if you are a woman, three if you are a man). In my military service I was a teacher for soldiers, teaching reading, writing, English and history. When I joined university it was halfway through the First Palestinian uprising, The Intifada. I joined CAMPUS - a Jewish-Arab political group. We had a lot of demonstrations in solidarity with the intifada in and out of the university. We got into all sorts of skirmishes and conflicts with the university disciplinary bodies. I worked whilst I was studying, for Leah Tzemel, the human rights lawyer I ended up working with afterwards. She was representing Palestinians in military courts.
What did you go on to do next?
I went into journalism in 1997. I started working for the then very popular Jerusalem based weekly Kol Ha’ir. I was a Features Writer, and later became a News Editor and Deputy Editor-in-Chief. In 2002, I was offered a fellowship in Oxford from the Reuters Foundation. I wrote a paper about The Guardian’s coverage of the second Intifada, and then I stuck around Oxford for another year as a Senior Associate Member in St. Antony’s College, and that is when I wrote my book, Disenchantment: The Guardian and Israel, which is about the history of The Guardian’s coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over the last 120 years or so. At the time their coverage was criticised a lot by Israel. I believe that it was actually quite good. After that, I moved to London in 2005 and worked as a freelance journalist and I translated books from English to Hebrew. In 2009 when I was 39, I had a heart attack at the gym. This experience led me - be it directly or indirectly - to start comedy about a year later, so I’ve been performing as a stand-up since 2010.
What do you think it was in particular about that experience that led you to comedy, was it something you had always wanted to do?
No, comedy as an undertaking had never occurred to me. I never watched stand-up, I knew it existed but I never attended a stand-up comedy night - I even had a friend who was quite keen on it and kept trying to lure me. He would say, ‘Oh, let’s go, they have a free night here or a free night there’. All these nights, by the way, I ended up performing at ten years later. But back then I just had no interest in it at all. But I had always been considered quite funny and after you have a heart attack and you’re so young, you think, ‘My god, my life is over’. It throws you into a little bit of a depression. And it was that year when I gave wedding speeches at the two weddings of two close friends, and they were quite well recieved. At the second wedding, there was a guest in the audience called Chris Morris, who’s a very famous comedy writer that worked on Brass Eye and directed Four Lions (needless to say I had no idea who he was at the time). And he said to the groom, ‘Who’s this girl, who is her agent?’ Kit said, ‘I’m her agent and I will see to it that she does it professionally’. Kit then arranged for a group of friends to buy me a comedy course for my 40th birthday, which was a few months later. They sent me on this course in a comedy school in Camden, in 2010, and I started performing in June that year. I went to an open mic night, I was terrible, but I just got hooked on it never stopped – It is now my sixth year. I’m very much at the beginning of my career, I’m still not making enough money to make a living off of it so I work as a journalist and as a Duty Editor in a company called GRNlive, which is an international correspondence agency. But I’m doing more and more professional gigs and I’m enjoying it very much.
You started as a human rights lawyer and have now ended up as a comedian, a drastic change of scene - would bouncing between potentially very different careers be something you would recommend to other women?
It’s very hard to recommend this kind of career because it is very erratic and it’s not very profitable - I don’t want to get into trouble with anyone’s mother. I would definitely say that if you do have the type of personality which makes you want to try different things, if you’re curious and ambitious and you don’t want a linear career, then it is okay to have a varied life. It is important to keep engaged and keep interested. When you do different things you still develop and become an enriched person. I think we really have to bear our personality in mind when we choose our careers. Although, we can’t always choose our careers, sometimes our careers choose us. I feel like this is what happened to me; I wanted to become a lawyer mainly for ideological reasons: I wanted to represent policy in the West Bank and Gaza in court. I was also attracted to a specific element of it which was, in retrospect and unsurprisingly, the element of performance. But there were other things about that were hard for me: it was hard to work every day in an office, hard to stick to pieces of paper for twenty years. Most of all, it was very hard on me as a young person to have a job which made me responsible for people’s lives, especially in the line of law that I chose. In court it was very much up to my performance whether somebody was going to go home the next day or go to prison for twenty years, and this freaked me out somewhat. So I do know that towards the end of my law-years time I was not in a good way - I was 26-years-old and I was feeling that my life was over because I’d already gone to university, I’d already done my law degree, I’d already done my articles. I remember my only consolation was thinking, ‘Well, I can retire in forty years, I can look forward to that’. Now I know that If you don’t want to do what you’re doing, you can just move away from what you are doing. And I did. I took some therapy, which I also recommend, because I was having a big crisis. I didn’t understand what was happening to me, I always wanted to be a lawyer and once I made it, I just couldn’t handle it. And then I realised what I really wanted to do was journalism, so I just went to this newspaper, started as a freelance, was very quickly a features writer. I was talented at it, I was very excited about it and it was another way to fulfil my sense of social commitment and political involvement that I had as a lawyer. There’s more than one way to do what you’re doing and you won’t always know when you’re twenty. Sometimes you keep finding out every five years that there is something else around the corner that you want to try, and that’s okay, as long as you make sure you make some kind of a living. It does have its price, I know that my way of life has made it difficult for me to have a family and has made it more difficult financially, but it has made my life more interesting and, for me, worth living.
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Human rights lawyer
Features writer - Kol Ha’ir newspaper, Jerusalem
News Editor - Kol Ha’ir newspaper, Jerusalem
Deputy Editor-in-Chief - Kol Ha’ir newspaper, Jerusalem
Journalism Fellowship from Reuters Institute, University of Oxford
Senior Associate Member - St. Antony’s College, University of Oxford
Freelance journalist, including The Guardian, New Statesman, Independent
Here at She Works, we've decided that human rights lawyer-turned-comedian Daphna Baram's interview was too good to cut down, and therefore we've split it into two parts. Read part one below...
"We can’t always choose our careers - sometimes our careers choose us"
Photo by Giada Garofalo
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