The Best Little (Dysfunctional Jewish) Strip Club in Toronto

Filmmaker Shawney Cohen Turns His Camera on His Family

The Three Cohens: Sammy, Roger and Shawney Cohen feature in the new documentary film “The Manor.”
Six Island Productions
The Three Cohens: Sammy, Roger and Shawney Cohen feature in the new documentary film “The Manor.”

By Sheerly Avni

Published November 15, 2013, issue of November 22, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

It’s one of the most instantly recognizable Jewish narratives of the 20th century: Two high schoolers – one an impoverished immigrant with an Old World accent that 50 years in the New World will be unable to fade, and the other the child of holocaust survivors — meet in the 1970s and fall in love. They marry, they struggle, and eventually they move forward, determined to give their children something bigger and better than what they knew.

The Mother cooks and takes care of the house, the Father starts a successful business. One of their two sons seems destined to take it over, while the other seems destined to rebel. And sure enough, it is the rebellious, questioning son who confronts the dark histories that both bind his family together and threaten to tear them apart.

Except in this case, the Father’s business is a strip club. And the Son’s bar mitzvah present was a lapdance.

Toronto-based filmmaker Shawney Cohen, now 38, has made a sensitive, thoughtful documentary about his very unusual childhood growing as a child of the Manor, the ‘gentleman’s club’ his father bought when Cohen was just 6 years old. Although the film abounds with colorful characters – an ex-con bar manager, a retired stripper with faded blond hair and an addiction to pills, and the expected coterie of struggling dancers who can’t seem to keep the peace or make it in for their shifts – the two most compelling characters by far are Cohen’s parents, Brenda and Roger.

Their house is haunted by something far more scandalous than some naked flesh or battered overnight guests, the scandal of 20th century anti-Semitism. Roger, an obese Israeli/Egyptian immigrant with thick glasses and the charisma of a late-career Oliver Reed, eats almost nonstop as a protest against the hunger he remembers from childhood. Brenda, large-eyed and frail, cooks lavish meals for the family, but weighs only 85 pounds. Both parents have a life of abundance that they don’t know how to enjoy – and two sons who know something is wrong but are not sure what to do about it.

“The Manor” will open DOCNYC this Friday night. Shawney Cohen spoke with The Forward by phone a few days ago in Toronto, while preparing for his night shift at managing the bar at the strip club. He spoke candidly about his mother’s illness, his father’s weight, and the complexities of his parents’ 40 year marriage.

The Forward: Even now, you work at the club?

It’s funny, that’s the most common question I get – are you still working there? People love the fact that I do. I am working on a new film now, and I still do my Sunday and Monday shift and I think it’s great. I’ve never been closer with my family, and yeah absolutely I think the film has really brought us close together.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • Calling all Marx Brothers fans!
  • What's it like to run the Palestine International Marathon as a Jew?
  • Does Israel have a racism problem?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.