Ronna & Beverly interview

Jewish-American chatshow hosts Ronna

Fiftysomething Jewish matriarchs Ronna & Beverly aren’t slow to offer an opinion on other people, but what do they make of a whole city? Tim Arthur gets their take on London.

© Rob Greig

As comedian Joan Rivers and talkshow host Sally Jessy Raphael have shown, there’s no one quite like an American Jewish matriarch to point out your shortcomings. Fiftysomethings Ronna Glickman and Beverly Ginsberg (comedians Jessica Chaffin and Jamie Denbo) have travelled the world, aggressively dispensing relationship advice to celebrities such as Russell Brand, Sue Perkins, Chris O’Dowd and Ricki Lake on their chat show, while promoting their co-authored self-help book ‘You’ll Do a Little Better Next Time’.

They have also had some considerably less famous patients, such as yours truly. I first met them when I was asked to appear on their show in Edinburgh two years ago. In ten minutes they pulled my life apart as only a mother can, laid me bare before a hysterical audience, showed me exactly where I’d been going wrong all these years and then, finally, sent me back out into the world, a chastened, wiser person. I promised them then that if they ever came to London I’d personally repay them for their kindness.

Now Ronna & Beverly are in town, taking a break from recording their Sky Atlantic show, and getting down with capital culture. I want them to apply their brisk and commonsense approach to London, in this most chaotic of summers. What should visitors do? How should they cope? What, at the end of the day, is London actually like? Over high tea at the Haymarket Hotel, it quickly becomes apparent that the ladies have their own ideas about our fair city. As George Bernard Shaw said, ‘England and America are two nations divided by a common language,’ though culturally these babies are maybe more G4S than GBS…

‘We love coming back to London over and over again,’ Ronna says, licking some whipped cream from her fingers. ‘We always find time to explore this magnificent city.’

‘Looondonopolis!’ Beverly squeals excitedly. ‘I believe that was what you were called back in Latin times. That’s the great thing about this city: there’s just so much history. It’s everywhere you look. Even the cake tastes ancient.’

‘It was called “Londinium”,’ I offer, warily, ‘but “Looondonopolis” has a better ring to it, I must admit.’ I express concern that they’re not fans of English cuisine. ‘Are you crazy! We eat like locals every day!’ Beverly says, thrusting a massive strawberry into her mouth. ‘Pardon me, eating lunch in Covent Garden every day doesn’t make you a local,’ Ronna says, looking at Beverly over her glasses.

‘What about the olives? Don’t forget them!’ says Beverly. ‘I call them “chicken olives”. They taste like smooth, juicy chickens. I imagine that’s what a dolphin feels like if you lick one – a big olive! They come from a place that sells some amazing Spanish food called Brindisa, in Borough Market.’

© Rob Greig

As the conversation gallops away from me, I’m left pondering if this is how all the visitors to London in this Olympics year see the capital. A kind of infinite Yo Sushi!, where random bits of world history, culture and cuisine rattle under your nose on a conveyor belt. Beverly is still waxing lyrical about the pleasures of the Borough. 

‘That’s the great thing: you get all the best new stuff and yet you can still chat up a fishmonger under London Bridge. I often feel like I just stepped out of the Tardis. Fabulous!’

Not to be outdone on all this vital, insider stuff, Ronna weighs in: ‘Yah. I feel like if I stay here too long I could catch the plague. Or a dead hooker might wash up on the banks of the Thames. It’s very romantic.’

The last time I saw Ronna and Beverly they were asking me the most intimate questions about my relationships, my life choices and my prowess or lack thereof in the bedroom. No subject was off-limits, even if I wanted it – with all my heart – to be.

‘So why are you still single?’ Ronna had asked me bluntly halfway through the interview. ‘You’re successful-ish, not hideous-looking and don’t show any outward signs of mental illness. I mean, not exactly catch of the day, but that’s what the internet’s for: people like you.’ It was like receiving self-help from two semi-friendly pitbulls.

As we finish tea and make our way out into the sunshine I am keen to see what this inquisition can produce when applied to a whole city. So, what’s good about London?

‘I love the British Museum,’ Ronna says pulling out giant shades from an equally colossal Burberry handbag. ‘It’s thrilling to be able to get so close to some of history’s most extraordinary relics. It’s all stolen, of course. But why colonise the world if you can’t bring back a few souvenirs?’

‘I always make time for Churchill’s War Rooms,’ adds Beverly. She produces some of the hotel’s sandwiches, which she’s hidden in a napkin under her coat. ‘It never gets old. A bunker devoted exclusively to the destruction of the Nazis? My kind of place. English people don’t have doggie bags,’ she disparagingly adds as she catches me glancing at her stash.

© Rob Greig

‘Your National Theatre is fabulous,’ trumpets Ronna. ‘It has such a lovely gift shop. Oh and we went to see that “One Man, Two Guvnors” that everybody is talking about. I loved it.’

‘Me, not so much,’ Beverly sneers.

‘I didn’t get it. There were no songs.’

‘That’s because it wasn’t a musical.’

‘Well, there you go! Perhaps if it had been I wouldn’t have left in the interval. Give me “Jersey Boys” any night of the week. While Ronna was watching the second half I went out and bought my girls matching Union Jack shirts, Union Jack short shorts and Union Jack umbrellas.’

‘One of your daughters is an observant Jew. When is she going to wear Union Jack short shorts?’ Ronna seems exasperated.

‘When she realises Orthodox Judaism isn’t fun at all.’

Before we stray into murky religious waters, I move on to their upcoming Sky series. How have their guests been?

‘We thought Stephen Mangan would be a snobby British actor,’ says Ronna, ‘but he was actually a teddy bear. Either that or his acting is so good that he fooled us both.’

‘Yah, yah,’ Beverly adds. She says this a lot.

‘Personally, I thought Jon Hamm could have worn a suit for us when he came on our programme,’ says Ronna, disappointedly.

‘What does he know, Ronna?’ chides Beverly. ‘He’s American. We’re all animals.’

Feeling that we have strayed somewhat from the task in hand, I ask the ladies if there’s anything they’d like to do before they head home. Something quintessentially London. See the Tower? Go on the Eye? Visit Buckingham Palace?

‘Yah, yah!’ Beverly says enthusiastically. ‘I’d like to go on the Duck Tour, you know, that bus that turns into a boat?’

‘The same thing we have in Boston, Beverly?’ says Ronna.

‘Yah. Except on this one the tour guide has an accent. Besides, I like to play tourist.’

‘Beverly, you are a tourist!’

‘Ronna & Beverly’ starts on Sky Atlantic HD in September.