Beats me what they see in sado- masochism

MOST comedians are liars. They have to be. They stand up on stage and have the effrontery to make generalised observations about ‘their girlfriend’ - who is, in fact, an amalgamation of various women they’ve known - so they can get easy laughs.

And you just know that nothing funny happened to them on the way to the gig that night.

Ivor Dembina is not your a regular comedian. He is honest, painfully honest in fact.

Dembina is a masochist and has been since as long as he can remember. A couple of years ago, sick of all the secrecy surrounding his "proclivities" he decided to write a comedy show about it, Sadojudaism, which plays the Stand this weekend.

Is there no sense of shame left? First Edwina Currie’s tawdry revelations and now this!

Frankly it came as a shock to hear that Dembina was a regular client of prostitutes, I tell him. He’s always struck me as a very intelligent and reserved gentleman.

"I don’t think being stupid is a prerequisite for having unusual sexual tastes," he laughs.

"I don’t know how many people in this country have fetishistic sexual tastes, what I do know is that a very small proportion is open about them."

As open as Dembina is about his tastes, he’s also extremely careful when it comes to choosing his words. Ask him why he needs to be hurt to experience sexual gratification and he’s quick to correct you.

"What I said was: ‘I cannot experience sexual pleasure unless it is preceded by pain," notes Dembina. "I don’t like being hurt and I’m not looking to hurt anyone. In fact, I’m much more hurt when someone doesn’t laugh at one of my jokes," he laughs. "The thing about sadomasochism is it’s where two consenting partners agree to inflict pain to give them sexual pleasure. At the end of the day, sex is secondary to love and - hard though it may be for those who don’t understand sadomasochism - people can express love in quite a profound way."

Dembina chooses his words carefully. He’s anxious that Sadojudaism - which he’s taken to America and Canada to great acclaim - doesn’t come across as "some kind of freak show" and is keen to stress that his headlining appearances at The Stand’s weekend club won’t dwell on his "proclivities".

Dembina, 51, is an experienced compere running nights at the Red Rose and Brixton comedy clubs in London. He’s been a fixture on the circuit for years with his bone-dry Jewish humour - not some tired old schtick, but a pointed analysis of the Middle Eastern conflict.

It’s a subject that Dembina is keen to return to after Sadojudaism. He’s recently back from Israel where he played benefit gigs for the Refuseniks - Israeli soldiers who have refused to serve in the occupied territories. If he chooses his words about sado-masochism carefully, he’s practically mute - on the record anyway - about this even more delicate situation. "Let’s just say that I think the Jews should give back the occupied territories but we should hang on to New York," he jokes.

Dembina credits being open about his masochistic streak for developing his comedy. "I think that’s what comedy is all about - opening yourself up to dealing with rejection. I’m not the only one to realise this. Eddie Izzard - and I’m not comparing my talent to his - told me that he only started developing his own unique brand of comedy when he publicly came out as a transvestite."

Dembina first visited a sado-masochistic prostitute when he was 16 - a practice he hid from all his girlfriends until he was 45. "I’d pay to be beaten by the prostitute and then I’d sexually relieve myself manually," he explains frankly. "There was no conventional sexual contact."

If there’s a stigma surrounding visiting prostitutes - and let’s be frank, there is - Dembina was far more worried about the shameful reputation of most autobiographical one-man shows, which is why he’s never brought Sadojudaism to Edinburgh until now.

"I didn’t want people to go: ‘Oh God, not another confessional Fringe show!’" wails Dembina. "I don’t want to sound poncy and arty, but beneath it all it’s a show that most people can relate to. It’s basically about having a secret and how it can ruin your life - but from a Jewish point of view." The fact remains that for many people sado-masochism appears faintly ridiculous because it’s so far removed from their own experience. At the risk of being prejudicial, does Dembina have any idea of how he came to be so hung up on pain?

"Well, no-one really knows why some people are gay, some people are straight, some people like blondes or some people like redheads," he shrugs. "But there was an incidence in my childhood that I investigated and it appears that when I was a very small child I was beaten with a stick by my mother. I was crying and she picked me up and gave me a cuddle afterwards and so after that I associated the love with the pain."

What was it that Phillip Larkin said about your mum and dad again? Dembina holds no such grudges.

"Differences are what makes a comedian interesting and what I’ve done with this is similar to what I’ve done with my Judaism. I spent a lot of time talking about my Jewishness because most of the people in the UK aren’t Jewish."

An unforeseen side-effect of performing Sadojudaism for the past couple of years has seen Dembina’s proclivities fade. "Just one of the effects of talking about it and being very open about it - and I really did not see this coming - is that most of those feelings have fallen away," he says. "It’s not fair to say it’s comedy as a form of therapy because I didn’t want to be cured, I was just sick of the secrecy."

Dembina now lives happily together with his girlfriend in south London. "I told her about my sexual past on the first day I met her because I’d formed a view that the best way to form a healthy relationship is to get your secrets out right at the beginning," he says.

"If the other person accepts them, then great, if they don’t then you can walk away from each other with no hard feelings. As I say in my act: ‘If you want a healthy sex life, the key word is communication. If you are making love to your partner, for heaven’s sake tell them’."

Ivor Dembina headlines at The Stand, tomorrow and Saturday, 9pm, 7, Sadojudaism, The Stand, Sunday, 5pm, 5 (3), 0131 558 7272