Deb Filler is an international writer and performer who has worked in New Zealand, Australia, the USA, Canada and Europe. In Filler Up! performed recently at Friends of Italian Opera English Theatre, she captivated her audience in her poignant and hysterically funny show, talking about her life ....
AVIVA-Berlin: How did you get started as a comedienne?
Deb Filler: I started when I was knee-high to a grasshopper. My mother was the family poetess, entertainer. My grandmother, my motherĀ“s mother from Germany, also. And I had talent as a child. I think they spotted it as I came out of the womb singing. I used to perform as a kid all the time. And one of the things I noticed was that my mother was quite overwhelmed with her relationship with her own mother who was a bullying woman. I could make my mother laugh and my grandmother laugh by becoming my grandmother - so I would be this "Al Capone German grandmother". And my grandmother would be shocked into laughter and I learnt very early that laughter was a wonderful way of communicating. ThatĀ“s how it all sort of started.
AVIVA-Berlin: YouĀ“re in Berlin with your show "Filler Up" at the Friends of Italian Opera English Theatre. How do you feel about being in Berlin.
DebFiller: ItĀ“s very redemptive for me to be here. You know, baking bread and breaking bread on stage with Germans. Berlin is like New York. ItĀ“s a separate country. IĀ“ve never been uncomfortable here. I love it, actually. I could even see myself living here.
AVIVA-Berlin: Your mother lives in New Zealand, doesnĀ“t she?
Deb Filler: Yes. They got out of Germany in 1938. My grandmother was hell-bent on getting them out.My grandfather who was a German Iron Cross-awarded hero refused to believe that anything terrible could happen to them. And she was such a strong feminist for her time. She said "Either we leave with you, or without you". And he went to New Zealand and ended up the rest of his life eating "crow" - humble pie. Had he got his way, we wouldnĀ“t have lived. I wouldnĀ“t be alive. He knew that and he was always very sorry for having wanted to cause the destruction of his whole family. Unwittingly, of course.
ItĀ“s just completely overwhelming - the amount of culture, thousands of years of culture and education and beauty that were just wiped out here. ItĀ“s very sad because this was such a thriving Jewish community. My mother always says, "We didnĀ“t go out and cause problems. We stayed quietly amongst ourselves and made ourselves better". The fact that we were so innocent was for her an even greater shock. ItĀ“s still a shock. How could that have happened? And thereĀ“s no answer to it. The answer is multitudinous. I think that within each person they say thereĀ“s a Mother Theresa and an Adolph Hitler. ItĀ“s just "who" and "when" and "how" and "where". But hopefully Anne Frank was right - people are basically good. One has to believe that or just curl up and die. And people of good will always find each other. E. M. Forster said that. I think the opposite is true, too. People of bad will find each other. So good-willed people end up clustering around in groups and I feel very fortunate with the friends I have in my life - all people with good will and good intentions. Those sort of people must stick together.
AVIVA-Berlin: What do you think happens when a person with good will meets a person with bad will?
Deb Filler: IĀ“m a practising Buddhist and I believe in Karma. So why did that person come across that other person? What path were they on? ItĀ“s a lesson. In the Buddhist theory, an obstacle and in the overcoming of the obstacle, a lesson is learnt. Then you say, "Well, how do you explain the Holocaust?" Six million people with bad Karma? ThatĀ“s an incredibly difficult one. I do think that even though I donĀ“t believe the world has totally learnt the lesson about genocide and about evil practices, for the most part people understand in their hearts whatĀ“s good and whatĀ“s bad. I think that when push comes to shove and if really bad stuff goes down, the world would rise up in revolution against it. Everybody basically wants to have their little ritual of coffee in the morning, to read the newspaper, have education for their children and a brighter future. Simple people, we want that. ItĀ“s only the power-crazed people that have a tainted touch of evil in them who I think want more than that. Maybe they need to meet a good person in order to get their priorities right.
AVIVA-Berlin: So, you are a practising Buddhist and not a practising Jew?
Deb Filler: IĀ“m a JewBu. (laughs) ThereĀ“s a lot of us. I mean, IĀ“m a cultural Jew. I love the Jewish holidays and I attend the Synagogue once in a while on a "High Holiday". As far as religion goes, IĀ“ve never been satisfied with the Judaeo-Christian concept of a God that is responsible for good and for evil. If God wanted it that way, thatĀ“s not enough for me. I believe that ItĀ“s personal responsibility and that we have to take personal responsibility for everything that happens to us, including our deaths. Including our lives.
AVIVA-Berlin: Have you been to Israel? If so, how is it for you to be there?
Deb FillerI lived in Israel for a year and I went back recently to perform. Well, now ItĀ“s incredibly depressing. I find Israelis the best and the worst of human beings. They are just the most wonderful, sweet, generous and fabulous people. And then thereĀ“s the most scarred, ugly and the most tortured souls that live there, too. ThatĀ“s the result of war. ItĀ“s a hell of a thing, war. Because it has generations of overtures, of "fallout". It just doesnĀ“t stop with that generation. If a country has been invaded and invaded, you have a whole different attitude towards politics and towards life. ItĀ“s the same in Israel and they are not without their tremendous complexities. ItĀ“s a hard place to be, and ItĀ“s a joyous place to be. And I know thereĀ“ll be peace there. I know there will. I feel that. Within 50 years it will be fine. ItĀ“s just in the meantime that ItĀ“s dreadful. ItĀ“s always going to be a sore point, isnĀ“t it, but when people have education and freedom - and I think the Palestinian people will have that - IĀ“m really hoping they will.
AVIVA-Berlin: How do you think women can contribute to bringing about peace?
Deb Filler: I think women would have a voice if only we would empower ourselves and believe that we could change things We had a revolution in the 70Ā“s that didnĀ“t quite make it. There have been some changes but I think it was just too terrifying to the world for women to have that much power. And IĀ“d like my next show to be about women in power. Women and money. IĀ“m very interested in that concept but IĀ“m not sure that IĀ“ll do a one-woman show. I think IĀ“ll do it two-handed this time (laughs).
AVIVA-Berlin: What book are you reading at the moment?
Deb Filler: Holly-Jane Rahlens has just given me one of her books that she wrote: "Becky Bernstein goes to Berlin" I started reading that last night. ItĀ“s very funny. (Read AvivaĀ“s interview with Holly-Jane Rahlens here)
AVIVA-Berlin: Who inspires your work as a comedienne?
Deb Filler: I love Carol Burnett, Lucille Ball, and Gilda Radnor. Leonard Bernstein inspired me a lot. He was such a wise man and a wonderful teacher. Mel Brookes, I really liked his work when I was a kid. He wrote a film called The Producers which is now a big stage play. He made fun of Nazis and I thought that was the best thing in the world. And IĀ“ve managed to do that a little bit in my work - to poke fun, through satire, at the things that need to be poked fun at. We must continue to do that. ItĀ“s like the same thing with my grandmother. If you can gently laugh with a bully, then hopefully theyĀ“ll put their guard down and make the world a little bit lighter in that moment.
Deb Filler at www.fillerup.ca
Friends of Italian Opera The English Theatre at www.thefriends.de