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Friday, 2 August, 2002, 13:03 GMT 14:03 UK
Israeli show makes light of conflict
Sesame Street
Sesame Street also tackles the Middle East issue
An Israeli comedy programme seeing the funny side of living with violence in the Middle East is proving enormously popular with audiences.

Only In Israel is sweeping all before it in the nation's TV ratings and the programme makers have defended it as therapeutic.


"If we don't laugh, then we will cry and we can't cry all day"

Only in Israel fan
Erez Tal, the show's creator, told BBC World Service how seeing the comedy within the country's tragic situation could be a cathartic experience.

"Right now we're the number one show in Israel," he said.

"Most people say that it is a relief every week to see the show and laugh with you about the situation."

But the programme has been called "tasteless" with more than 500 Israelis and many more Palestinians killed in the last two years of fighting.

Jokes

In one show, a couple sits in a cafe and sings an anthem of the Israeli peace movement.

A balloon pops and they dive under the table, fearing a suicide bomb attack.

Earlier this week a Jerusalem bomb wounded at least seven people
Bombings are feared daily
This is what passes for humour for the one in 12 Israelis who watch the show every Friday night - a staggering figure given that most orthodox Jews aren't watching at this time for religious reasons.

Assessing this dark brand of conflict humour, John Elkins, arts correspondent for IBA television news in Israel, said: "Israelis are searching for something that will take the sting away from the events.

"Often these things are unspeakable, society has to think of a way of dealing with them and humour is one way," he explained.

Violence in the Middle East erupts almost daily.

At one time the television schedules would revert to continuous news programmes if an attack had occurred.

But, as Mr Elkin explained: "Since the frequency has become a monthly, weekly almost daily event in our lives here, the scheduling isn't changed."

"Comedy goes on and it has to deal with what's going on in the country otherwise it's not funny."

Strain

But more than 750,000 viewers have complained about the programme.

One objector told the BBC: "The situation in Israel is so sensitive. I don't think people should make jokes."

Meanwhile, Erez Tal, the show's creator and co-star, told the BBC World Service's Arts In Action programme that complaints were inevitable, but under the circumstances, laughter was sometimes the only possible reaction.

A sentiment that was echoed by one of the shows fans when they said: "If we don't laugh, then we will cry and we can't cry all day."

Suggesting laughter as a form of therapy, Mr Elkin went on to say that humour is helping people to come to terms with the daily realities of conflict.

"If you live here you feel the daily strain of do I join my friend for a coffee or do I run the risk of being blown up over a cup of cappuccino?" he explained.

"When reality becomes that horrible you have to figure out ways of dealing with it. Humour is a good way and evidently people are enjoying it because the jokes keep running."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Erez Tal speaks to Arts In Action
"Right now we're the number one show in Israel"

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26 Sep 01 | Entertainment
20 Nov 01 | Middle East
17 Dec 01 | Media reports
21 May 02 | Entertainment
30 Jul 02 | Middle East
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