Throughout Amy Winehouse’s meteoric rise to pop dominance, her father Mitch was a polarizing figure, alternately seen as doggedly protective of his daughter and her reputation, while also seeming to overly enjoy the attention he received by proxy. (An exhibit at London’s Jewish Museum this fall offered visitors a look at the Winehouse family’s private life.)
In the two-plus years since Winehouse’s death, Mitch has thrown himself into the Amy Winehouse Foundation, which aims to educate young people about the dangers of drugs and alcohol and inspire them through music, an organization he financed with the proceeds of a memoir about his daughter’s life, and which has since given more than £500,000 to causes in the U.K. Mitch himself, though, remains as polarizing as ever, with some resenting his continued public presence while others laud his commitment to his daughter’s legacy.
Spin’s David Marchese tagged along with the Winehouse patriarch while he was in New York last month to host a fundraiser for the foundation, which somewhat inexplicably featured him performing with a seven-piece jazz band at a Midtown club. Winehouse spoke at length with Marchese, often about himself, and managed to share readily not one but two Jewish jokes.
“If I regret anything,” he says, “it’s that I didn’t become a soccer player. When I went to try-outs, they said I had a weight problem. I think back to what I could have done in soccer . . . In those days, Jewish guys like me were all doctors and accountants.”
I mention that there’s still not a lot of Jews in sports, and Winehouse’s eyes gleam. “You Jewish?” he asks. I am.
“Okay, I’ll tell you a Jewish joke,” he says. “It’s a bit rude as well.”
Winehouse licks his lips and leans forward in his chair. “Klein is walking through the Sinai desert, and his foot goes clink — it’s Aladdin’s lamp. He rubs Aladdin’s lamp, and a genie comes out and says, ‘Mister Klein, I’m going to give you two wishes. What is your first wish?’ Mister Klein draws a map in the sand and he says, ‘This is Israel. To the north is Jordan, over there is Syria, that’s Egypt, and that’s Saudi Arabia.’ And he tells the genie, ‘I want you to make it all Israel.’ And the genie says, ‘That’s very difficult, because you all hate each other, you have different customs, your women are different, you eat different food, you speak different languages. So Mister Klein, do you have a second wish?’ And Mr. Klein says, ‘I wish my wife would perform oral sex on me.’ And the genie says, ‘Show me that map again.’”
But wait, there’s more, a few paragraphs later.
He asks if he can tell me another joke.
“Okay,” says Winehouse, grinning. “There is an old Jewish joke about the Cohen brothers: Morrie Cohen dies, and at the funeral the rabbi says, ‘You know, he wasn’t a very nice man and he wasn’t very popular. The one good thing I could say about him was that his brother was worse.’
Stephanie Butnick is deputy editor of Tablet Magazine and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.