Ian's future was looking Rosie as partner encouraged him to take to the stage

FUNNYMAN Ian Stone's rise to stardom is a far cry from his Jewish roots.

Educated at a Jewish primary and secondary school, religion was not for Ian - but he did enjoy the 'musical side' of going to shul.

"I remember vividly my barmitzvah at a United synagogue in Hendon," he said.

"There are things you never forget, even though it's 25 years since I was last in a synagogue. When someone starts singing the Israeli national anthem, I remember it instantly."

Ian also recalled the former minister of his old shul.

"I was watching a television programme about the liberation of concentration camps and its aftermath," he said.

"Suddenly, on the screen was Rev Leslie Hardman, who officiated at Hendon shul when I used to go.

"Rev Hardman had a connection to the camps and I wish I'd known that all those years ago. I was never disrespectful, but if I'd known of his involvement in history I'd have had a new-found respect."

Comfortable with his heritage, Ian describes himself as a "proud, Jewish atheist".

He said: "I'm a cultural Jew. I tell people I'm Jewish but don't have the God stuff. You can be a Jew without believing in God.

"It's the way you move, the way you talk, the mannerisms and the inbred look . . . I have them all."

Coming up to two decades in the comedy business, the 47-year-old is at home whether making observations on issues ranging from politics to Muslim fundamentalists to Israel or his beloved Arsenal Football Club.

Ian was the first British stand-up comedian to perform in Moscow and is a five-time performer at the Edinburgh Festival.

"I had an interpreter on stage with me," he said about the Russian gig. "It was the maddest thing I've ever done in my life.

"I told a joke and she translated. It was crazy but a laugh."

He has also embraced technology with his cult podcast It's Up For Grabs Now, which observes weekly activities at Arsenal and in football.

Television appearances include hit series The 11 O'Clock Show, Never Mind The Buzzcocks and Mock the Week.

Radio credits have included a memorable interview with Jewish comic legend Jackie Mason on BBC Radio 4 arts programme Front Row.

Stand-up though is Ian's forte. He even performed on the final transatlantic crossing of cruiseliner the QE2.

Comedy festivals have been a feature of his career and Ian's one-man show has been seen in Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, South Africa, Holland, France, Ireland and Germany.

This talented comic has toured with Alan Davies, Ardal O'Hanlon and Omid Djalili, entertained troops in Kuwait and Bosnia and played clubs in New York and Canada.

Growing up, physics and English were Ian's favoured subjects at school but an engineering career was never going to last.

"I always loved comedy," he recalled. "When I was a kid it was Laurel and Hardy, and The Marx Brothers. They were amazing.

"The only stand up on television was The Comedians, but I really got into comedy at the Comedy Store.

"Watching Alexei Sayle and the guys who were the Young Ones (Adrian Edmondson, Rik Mayall, Nigel Planer and Christopher Ryan) perform was where it started for me.

"I then discovered guys from America such as Lenny Bruce and Woody Allen, but never thought about doing it until my partner, Rosie, went on at me for five years.

"I started writing a few jokes with Ivor Baddiel, David's brother, but there didn't seem to be any natural outlet for them.

"We had five minutes' material so I thought I'd give it a go at the Comedy Cafe on August 14, 1991.

"I'd never performed in my life, never been on a stage, but Rosie had sung and acted so knew the basic mechanisms of what you needed to do.

"We practised, but nothing prepares you for standing up in front of people and trying to make them laugh.

"I did think, 'what have I let myself in for?' but then I heard my name. It's a learning process from then on.

"I'm quite a determined person and had a reputation among friends that if I decide to do something, I do it, but then you have to live up to it. Once I said I'd be a stand-up comedian I had to keep going."

Ian added: "I did my fifth gig with David Schneider.

"In his act, David peeled an orange to Joe Cocker's You Can Leave Your Hat On. It used to make me laugh. I went on after David for my five minute stint.

"Afterwards he told me I was great, which sustained me for months through many bad gigs.

"To think someone who I thought was funny thought I was funny made a huge difference."

Since those early days of making an impression there has been plenty of work including hit show Mock The Week.

"It is distilled and topical," he said of the BBC2 news quiz.

"It's comics doing their stuff and, when the banter works, it's really funny."

As for Jewish comics, he has a number of favourites.

"Interviewing Jackie Mason, I tried to get a word in, but he is relentless and an interesting character," he quipped.

"We were talking about Seinfeld and whether it was a Jewish sitcom.

"I suggested it was an urban sitcom rather than Jewish. Jackie agreed and then went on for another five minutes as only he can.

"I really like Jackie and also loved the Woody Allen and Lenny Bruce stuff from years ago."

But when it comes to material, Ian's sources are succinct.

"Anger and irritation are the things that get at me now that may be funny later," he noted.

"With stand-up, although you prepare jokes, really you start talking and see what comes out.

"At the moment I'm writing jokes about the British Airways strike, political candidates and, no doubt, I'll be speaking about the expenses scandal again in the coming weeks."

Arsenal has been Ian's passion since his father took him to a game.

"Dad watched Tottenham one week and Arsenal the next, but for me there was always one club, it just worked out that way," he said.

"In the 70s and 80s at a packed Highbury the atmosphere was amazing. We haven't really matched that at The Emirates, but it's a beautiful stadium.

"Liam Brady was my favourite player, but in more recent times there has been Denis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry. Bergkamp is the best player I've ever seen.

"The Arsenal 'Invincibles' team was fantastic, but the 1997/98 team that won the 'double' were outstanding.

"We had to beat Everton on the last day of the season at Highbury. Tony Adams chests the ball down before half volleying it with his left foot in the last minute to make it 4-0.

"Adams turns around with his arms out like the Messiah and 40,000 people thought, 'blimey, things have changed around here', because we played some beautiful football. It was some team."

As for modern-day Arsenal, Ian noted: "Wenger has created an unbelievable, talented, young team, but gets criticised.

"Too many people don't realise the rubbish we sat through over the years. They are watching an absolutely outstanding football team who have not quite made it.

"This team is a real team, but are they going to win anything this year? I think the title is our best bet and hope so. God, it would be lovely."

Podcast It's Up For Grabs Now has provided Ian with a different medium to pass on his views about Arsenal.

Hosted by fellow Arsenal fanatic and comic Alan Davies, comedian Keith Dover and musician Tayo Popoola make up the rest of the team on the podcast.

The title refers to Brian Moore's ITV commentary during a title decider between Liverpool and Arsenal when Michael Thomas scored a late winner to clinch the title for the Gunners at Anfield in 1989.

"The podcast is massively successful," Ian said. "We've sat together for around 20 years so we have a chemistry you don't normally get on these shows."

© 2010 Jewish Telegraph