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Comedian banned after Zionist heckling becomes no laughing matter

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Comedian Paul Currie has been banned from touring Australia after a media uproar labelled him anti-Semitic (Screenshot via YouTube)

The isolated report of one Israeli heckler has been broadcast around the world as an instance of “anti-Semitism” after a performance by Northern Irish alternative comedian Paul Currie

As a consequence, Currie has been banned from his entire Australian tour, with a whole run of shows cancelled at multiple upcoming comedy festivals.

Every comedian I’ve ever met has a heckler story, but I haven’t heard of a heckler’s unrecorded and uncorroborated tale doing so much damage to one working comedian. Worse than that, it’s based on a flagrant misinterpretation of the act.

First, the heckler’s account. That’s very easy to locate because, within one week of the show, he had been hosted by a wide range of British media outlets to retell it.

Liahav Eitan says Currie singled him out at his 10 February Soho Theatre show in London for refusing to give a standing ovation for the Palestinian flag.

In one interview, he recalls the moment:

“He said, ‘Thanks everyone for coming,’ that kind of stuff. And then just randomly turned at us, all the way to his right and said, ‘And thanks to these two for not standing up and clapping.’ And then he sort of lingers on us, as if expecting us to apologise or to stand up and clap.”

After a brief, tense exchange, he said Currie began verbally abusing him, roaring at him about ceasefires and demanding that he leave. As he did, the crowd around them chanted “Free Palestine!” at him.

The incident soon hit the news. UK NGO Campaign Against Antisemitism demanded an apology from Soho Theatre and Soho readily gave one.

It confirmed that it would be barring Currie from performing again with this statement:

On Saturday evening, following the end of Paul Currie’s show Shtoom, Jewish members of the audience were subjected to verbal abuse and the performer aggressively demanding they leave the theatre.


Such appalling actions are unacceptable and have no place on our stages, now or ever. We will not be inviting Paul Currie back to perform at our venue.


Whilst we robustly support the right of artists to express a wide range of views in their shows, intimidation of audience members, acts of antisemitism or any other forms of racism will not be tolerated at Soho Theatre.

Soon after the Soho Theatre ban, Australian Zionist bodies discovered that Currie was booked to perform in Australia. Australian Jewish Association (AJA) first tweeted about Currie on 15 February, demanding that the Melbourne International Comedy Festival (MICF) ‘must reassure the Jewish community that they are welcome at the festival’.

The City of Stonnington, which had booked a MICF event for Currie, was the first to cancel. AJA tweeted that it had ‘received confirmation from the Executive Director of the festival’ about it.

MICF’s statement read in part:

‘Material that encourages, or normalises violence of any kind, racism, misogyny, ableism or persecution of the LGBTIQ+ communities does not have a place in the Melbourne Comedy Festival.’

Brisbane Comedy Festival and Fremantle International Street Arts Festival followed suit.

In a statement regarding the cancellations, the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV), who also confirmed they pressured MICF, remarked:

“If the intent of the comedian is to intimidate an audience, to use their platform to impose their radical, hateful views on others, then there is no place for them at our Australian comedy festivals.”

I initially located several eyewitness accounts online that didn’t corroborate Eitan’s version of events. I believe it’s a performer’s prerogative to handle hecklers how they must and as there was no mention of Eitan’s Jewishness in even his account of events, I did not regard this as a serious instance of “anti-Semitism”. 

But I certainly didn’t expect the entire account of the night to be based on a complete – perhaps wilful – misunderstanding. That’s what I realised once I spoke to Paul Currie.

Here's what actually happened.

There’s a high-energy moment in the show, later on in his set. John Farnham’s You’re The Voice starts playing to an already excited crowd. Everyone’s clapping and cheering along. Currie pulls out two flags from his prop suitcase — Ukranian and Palestinian. Gesturing to the audience, they clap and cheer for the flags. (Gesturing and eliciting crowd reactions is what Paul does in his non-verbal show. There’s a video of this bit.)

The song plays right up until the bit where Farnsey says: ‘We’re not gonna sit in silence.’ At that, the music cuts out very abruptly. Paul stares at the audience in sudden, deathly silence. The sound of a dripping tap accentuates the quietude. It’s awkward.

“It’s a silent metaphor about how everyone is not really doing anything about all the conflicts in the world,” said Currie.

You’d have thought from media reportage that this is where the show ends. It isn’t. There’s a touching, sentimental sketch involving a Kermit puppet (Currie is also a Henson Muppeteer), set to the tune of Jim Henson’s Rainbow Connection. It invokes a sense of childhood dreams that children who have died in conflicts will not go on to experience.

Currie jumps up with a giant set of angel wings, spreading them. The lights black out. Suddenly, a tiny puppet version of Currie with the same attire and the same angel wings roars up and over the crowd, flying away. Brazil, from Terry Gilliam’s movie of the same name, is playing. It’s a touching ode to the film; as a finale, it evokes the film’s fantastic sense of flying away from a dystopian world.

The main stage lights come up. Currie begins to bow and mime an over-the-top standing ovation to nobody. The audience copies him like they’ve been taught to do through the show. Then Currie wheels around and gushes in surprise as he collects the adulation he just made the audience give him.

Currie said this always gets a laugh — because he’s been doing it for over ten years.

(See, here’s a 2013 review that mentions the contrived ovation bit.)

Says Currie:

And then I always – always – call out the people who didn’t stand up. ‘Thank you guys who didn’t stand up’, like, really offended.


Which I’m not. Because it’s all part of the routine. It’s a joke. I’m a comedian. It’s a trick.

But the audience overheard a retort from Eitan, who was one of the people sitting on this night. Currie hadn’t heard it, but when the audience began loudly booing Eitan it drew Currie’s attention to him.

(Eitan has confirmed in interviews that what he said was: “Well, thanks for that Palestine flag.”)

Currie tried to calm the crowd and stop the booing. He didn’t want a negative atmosphere to ruin what had, up to that moment, been the best night of his run at the Soho. He asked Eitan what was wrong and if he was genuinely unhappy with the show. Currie recalls that Eitan replied, “Yes, you ruined your show by showing that flag”.

Currie added:

“He had a smug smile on his face, so I couldn’t tell if he was being serious.”

Eitan confirmed he was serious and told Currie that he hated that flag and hated Currie for using it in his show.

Currie says:

“So I explain: ‘I’m from Belfast. That whole bit was about ceasefires and stopping war. We know more about ceasefires in Belfast than anyone in the UK. And they are extremely important!’”

Eitan was still smiling at him — so Currie tells him to read the room and leave. At first, Eitan won’t leave — Currie insists he goes.

Currie continues:

“He stands slowly and starts putting on his coat calmly, and he chooses not to leave in the dark but to actually cut through the row of people in front of him with his friend, and the two step up onto the stage.”

Eitan has said in several interviews that he couldn’t see any other way to leave the room except via the stage. Nevertheless, what Currie experienced was two male hecklers suddenly approaching him from the audience.

Says Currie:

I’m now scared of this act of weird calmness and casual arrogance. They start to walk across a fully lit stage smiling at me and the audience.


So I hold up both flags, offer up the Palestinian one and say, ‘Is it this one you don’t like? It’s about CEASEFIRES! Now!’ The audience joints me and chants, ‘Ceasefire now!’

Poor Liahav Eitan!

Rather than a polished closer from a veteran performer, he thought this was a special moment that only he had experienced. He is the epicentre of the universe! Every theatre show is secretly specifically about Liahav Eitan! Every Palestinian flag exists specifically to wound him!

To heal poor Liahav’s wounds, he was almost immediately interviewed by countless conservative media hosts across the United Kingdom, who helped him retell his heckling as a victim narrative.

One interviewer tries to understand how Currie even knew that Eitan was seated:

Interviewer: But he could obviously see that you weren’t standing up?

Eitan: I was surprised by that. I could barely see the show [from his seating position].

Interviewer: Were there people standing up in front of you?

Eitan: Yes.

Interviewer: So how did he… Do you think somebody told him, perhaps? An earpiece?

In another interview, Eitan says he usually Googles acts he goes to see, such as DJs, to see if they have pro-Palestinian politics so he can avoid them. You’d imagine he’d be good at internet searches, given that he not only works for Google but was once an officer in the IDF’s elite intelligence unit, Unit 8200.

(Photo via Facebook)

Not someone we can reliably expect to have a reasonable, controlled reaction toward a Palestinian flag, then.

And he was a heckler, of course. Currie just did his regular act; Eitan responded by heckling. And if this is just a “misunderstanding”, it would almost be funny — if it hadn’t been broadcast all around the UK and lost Currie his entire Australian tour.

Australian performer Alanah Parkin went on with several others to create Comedians for Palestine and demand via an open letter (currently with over 1,500 signatures from local comedians and performers) that Australian comedy festivals reinstate Currie’s shows and apologise to him.

Alanah emailed the City of Stonnington and received the following response:

‘City of Stonnington has not suggested that Paul Currie’s behaviour at Soho Theatre was anti-Semitic. We respect artistic expression and expect our artists to abide by Council’s terms and conditions and ensure their work is not political, sexist or racist.’

But the City of Stonnington’s 15 February statement read in part:

‘The City of Stonnington has been made aware of media reports concerning alleged anti-Semitic behaviour by Mr Currie at a recent performance in London.’

It’s as though liberal Australian institutions responsible for the arts are incapable of forming any kind of firm position. Even a demonstrably Zionist spine would be better than no spine at all.

One of the groups that served to apply local pressure is the abovementioned Australian Jewish Association. This is a group who once tried to book Lauren Southern, a White nationalist YouTuber with significant neo-Nazi ties, to come to Australia to walk among Jewish communities with them. 

In November 2023, AJA President David Adler referenced the Great Replacement conspiracy theory, which White supremacist Christchurch killer Brenton Tarrant included in his manifesto. Are the festivals and councils who cancelled Currie’s Australian tour content to take their cues on safety and inclusivity from these people?

Now that we understand what actually happened, they must reverse their decision.

Currie told me:

“I’ve thrown plenty of disruptive anti-social people from my shows over the past 15 years. I don’t hide and have never hid my political views. I believe in humanity and peacefulness and unity. I can’t stand bullies — I was bullied as a kid so I stand up to them, especially when they’re ruining the fun and joy I bring into a room for everyone.”

Currie’s ethos is reflective of how many working comics go about their trade. I assumed that the last people who’d need reminding of this would be people in charge of booking comedians.

If you are a comedian or work in the performing arts, you may wish to sign Comedians for Palestine’s petition so that Currie’s shows may be reinstated.

Tom Tanuki is a writer, satirist and anti-fascist activist. Tom does weekly videos on YouTube commenting on the Australian political fringe. You can follow Tom on Twitter @tom_tanuki.

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