Monday, 25 January 2010

[Comedy] Jerry Sadowitz :: Ha Ha Hate

‘I’m of the opinion that comedy should be all about depression, and should be about life being shit, and bonding in this misery. The uplifting stuff – it’s for kids. Adults don’t want to be uplifted… “You can tickle a gibbon, life’s great!” Pfft. Is it?’

- Jim Jeffries, in conversation with Marsha Shandur

I first heard of Jerry Sadowitz when, aged four, I read a book about the history of alternative comedy called Didn’t You Kill My Mother-in-law? Actually I may have been a little older than four. And it may have been a different book. But Jerry Sadowitz definitely made an impression on me. Apparently, what he did, he went on stage and said, ‘I hate everything.’ Even at that age, whatever age I was, the idea of making comedy from misanthropy appealed to me enormously, because essentially, I hated everything too. I remember thinking, who is this courageous man who dares speak the truth?

As I grew older, Sadowitz would crop up in my peripheries every once in a while and invariably in the same context, invariably with someone asking the question: is this the most offensive man on the planet? So naturally, I’ve always wanted to see him live. Finally, last Thursday night at the Leicester Square Theatre, I did.

Prior to seeing him, I did a little research to prepare myself. One of the most recent online reviews of Sadowitz was published on the comedy website Chortle. It was written by a comedy producer named Bethan Richards, whose Twitter profile begins with the words ‘I love comedy!’ (Already, that exclamation mark is a bit of a giveaway.) Her review was entitled, ‘A tirade of racist, sexist, borderline-psychopathic bile’, but before she got into why she was so easily offended, Richards pointed out: ‘I am not easily offended. I’m not a girly girl who only likes watching My Family and repeats of The Good Life.’ However, Richards did not enjoy Sadowitz. In fact, she seemed genuinely baffled. Clearly, for her a man swearing at the audience and hating everything was not comedy. Where was the adherence to timeworn comedy formula? Where was the comedian’s crucial craving for the audience’s love?

‘I felt sure we were being filmed for a reality show,’ she writes. ‘When was Davina going to pop out and tell us it’s all OK?... Truly and utterly shocking. I wanted to walk out. But I was a bit too scared.’

I must admit, before I actually went to see him for myself, I was a little scared too. I was scared that I’d be disappointed, scared that like Richards, I too would see nought on stage but a bitter old misanthropist with no comedy value.

Thankfully, this wasn’t the case. Rather, for the duration of his 100-minute show, I was captivated.

Jerry Sadowitz is phenomenal. He’s like a Tasmanian Devil, or like a plague of comedy locusts, devouring everything in sight with his all-encompassing disgust.

Unlike most human beings, there is no subject Sadowitz will not make not light of and defile. The Haiti earthquake, for example, was mentioned in the first minute and cropped up a few times throughout the evening. Although he didn’t actually utter the words ‘I hate Haiti’, that, as always, was his gist. ‘They need food. I need a fucking iPod. That’s how it fucking works.’ And who but Jerry Sadowitz would dare open a set with a magic trick involving the persistently elusive Madeleine McCann?

You often hear people say, ‘there are some things you simply cannot make jokes about’. High up on this list are usually rape, paedophilia and natural disasters. Other people argue, however, that the darker and more unacceptable the subject matter, the more reason there is to make jokes. Indeed, it’s almost like we have a responsibility to make jokes, to laugh in the face of the unremitting odiousness of human existence. Laughter is a coping mechanism, and for a lot of people it’s absolutely essential.

Let us not forget, it is a relentlessly dark and distressingly ugly world, packed to the gills with cancer, child abuse, genocide, suicide bombers, mutual assured destruction and Miley Cyrus. These things can be overwhelming. At times they can feel impossible to deal with. Some people accept them grimly, with silence and fearful respect, granting them power in the process. Others laugh in their face and tell them to fuck off.

Comedy is often described as a kind of pressure valve for society. It allows us to let off steam. This is probably more true of Sadowitz than any other comic. He says the things we wouldn’t dare say. If we’re of a dark bent ourselves, we might think them, or if we have friends of an equally dark bent, we might on occasion even voice them, but one thing we would never do is stand up in public and shout them at a room full of strangers.

Stewart Lee said of Jerry Sadowitz: ‘There's a part in every show of his where a little piece of me dies and I think, I wish I'd never heard that.’ The part of this show which had me feeling something similar was his short rant about what he’d like to do to the TV presenter Christine Bleakley. He didn’t even have the decency to pronounce her name correctly.

Sadowitz describes what he does as a ‘cancer of entertainment’, but in its relentless obscenity, it somehow feels like the opposite of that. It feels like the antidote.

Furthermore, just to clear something up, Sadowitz isn't remotely racist. Racism - as Michael Richards proved a couple of years ago - isn’t funny. Racism is stupid, and it comes from a brainless place, from fear and ignorance. What Sadowitz does - even when he’s calling Barack Obama ‘a black cunt’ - is the opposite of racism. It’s comedy.

At one point in the show, Sadowitz is recounting a visit to his GP when he lapses into a Pakistani accent. Then he breaks off for a second to explain: ‘He wasn’t even a Pakistani. I’m just doing that for sheer fucking devilment.’

Devilment is the perfect word for what Sadowitz does. He makes mischief. He pins propriety to the ground and, before your very eyes, he buggers it. And a lot of people don’t care for that.

Speaking of which, Bethan Richards might be pleased to hear that her review of the Sadowitz preview was mentioned in the show proper. Unsurprisingly, Sadowitz didn’t care for it. Mostly what rankled was her description of him as merely borderline psychopathic. ‘Borderline?’ he screamed. ‘What the fuck does a man have to do?’

Relentless, fearless, infantile, ridiculous, repugnant and utterly vile, Jerry Sadowitz is really quite brilliant. And in a world where Michael McIntyre is king and the incessantly pun-heavy and desperately needy tweets of Peter Serafinowicz are widely regarded as some sort of sacred text, it’s clear that we need Sadowitz more than ever before.

The cunt.

Go on, see for yourself. I dare you.

Update Wednesday :: I'm an arse. I forgot the best bit, the surprising bit. The best bit was that he really seemed to be enjoying himself. There was a warmth to the performance. Almost. It was sweet.

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AndrewM said...

He appears to need a haircut.

La Bête said...

You can tell him. I'm not.

Anonymous said...

Separated at birth?

A Twitter Friend

La Bête said...

Nil points.

Anonymous said...

Don't pretend you don't see the resemblance between them. It's worth at least half a point. C'mon Stan!

A Twitter Friend

Swineshead said...

I met him once in a bar they used to call Bistrotheque in Camden where I used to booze all day long.

He told the owner she should revamp the place and call it 'Withnails'. Make it a Withnail theme bar.

I told them that I didn't think that was such a great idea and Mr. Sadowitz absolutely laid into me with verbal ferocity, despite the caution with which I conveyed my comment.

So, on a personal level, I think he's a twat.

I'm sure he's a fun night out. But if the racism and devilment isn't ironic or pointed, then it's real? Or is it not real?

Yours, confused,


nondisbeliever said...

I've never really found Jerry Sadowitz particularly entertaining, if I'm honest. I've always had a pretty thick skin when it comes to the nastier things in life, and once I got past the "oh my god I can't believe he said that" element of his act, there wasn't much underneath that particularly endeared him to me. I'm a realist, which means I treat Sadowitz and people who get offended by him with an equal measure of disdain.

Glad I'm not the only one who thinks Peter Serafinowicz (much as I have respect for him) is highly overrated for his Twitter outpourings.

janetyjanet said...

nope, not feeling any Sadowitz love, perhaps he is making valid points but I just can't get past the bile - for me there's better ways of making people think - glad you had a good night out though!

& ps. am off work, flat on my crap back (and not in a good way) feeling sorry for myself - damn you traitorous muscles, so have cheered myself up by re-reading your book, even better second time round and still get a little frisson when I see my name in the back - hee hee!

Anonymous said...

I don't really see the difference between him and Richards' racist rant, can you go over that one more time?

La Bête said...

Hey, Swineshead. On a personal level, fair enough. I wouldn’t care for him either if he’d been unpleasant to me. I think the hatred and devilment is real, inasmuch as it’s something we all feel but generally bottle up inside of us because we know it's unacceptable, but it’s ‘ironic’ inasmuch as his stage persona allows him to let it out. I would say that I've heard that he's not like that in real life, but obviously your experience doesn't bear that out. To be fair, however, I have also heard stories about how he's actually a sweetheart in real life.

Nondisbeliever, fair enough. Yeah, Mr Serafinowicz (much as I have respect for him) makes me bilious on Twitter.

Janet, thanks for that. I’m glad you liked it a second time. That’s great. Read it again, I dare you.

OK, Anon. The difference is that the main trait of Sadowitz’s stage persona is misanthropy. He hates everything. He hates everybody. Michael Richards’ stage persona is just Michael Richards, telling jokes. So when he started shouting ‘nigger’ at some black men, it wasn’t a joke. It didn’t fit in with a persona he’d been developing for 30 years. Does that make any more sense? It makes sense to me, but I can understand that some people can’t see beyond the fact that it’s just two men being unpleasant.

Sir Garence said...

There's a funny Sadowitz anecdote here:

It seems not everyone is prepared to put up with his shtick.

Anonymous said...

Crucially Anonymous, where Michael Richards is concerned, his outburst was sparked by the fact that he had been heckled. Believing the heckler to have been the African-American at the back, he launched into a vitriolic tirade that was indefensible. Indefensible, because he said something like "100 years ago you'd have been hanging from a tree with a pitch fork up your ass" (I paraphrase).

So true. He would have. Possibly even 50 years ago. Maybe even 30. Given the recent history of racial division in the US, Richards' attack revealed a dark uncurrent. It was pointed. It was visceral. That's the difference. It wasn't meant to be humorous.

Ross said...

Sadowitz is like Rollerball. I'm still not sure if i think he's a good or a bad thing.

Nuclear Girl said...

I saw Jerry Sadowitz in 1989 at the Glastonbury Festival, of all places. He was the perfect antidote to the hippy hell I had to endure for four days.

Anonymous said...

OK, I see what you mean. But I think shouting 'nigger! fifty years ago we'd have had a fork up your arse! nigger!' is pretty offensive no matter who says it and what their persona is. Although in Richards' case it sounded angry and hateful, and that is not what (I believe) comedy should be.

Then again, I'm a white, uptight liberal so what do I know?


ps - why can't we all just get along??

Swineshead said...

I'm pretty certain I'd enjoy see Sadowtiz on stage.

I ought to add, I think people possibly judge Michael Richards a little harshly. It was indefensible, what he said and I'm not the kind of idiot who'd try to explain what a riled up man said in the heat of the moment.

But I do know what it's like to be a riled up man in the heat of the moment, and sometimes it brings out the very worst - and sometimes it's not even coming from a place true to your conscious mind.

To say it revealed a dark undercurrent is pushing it a bit. All it revealed was that fury and embarrassment combined make people act like absolute cocks.

He's hardly Jim Davidson.

Hope Bete doesn't mind a ludicrous plug but there is a podcast about that particular racist comedian here ...

Anonymous said...

Hello there! I just want to say to La Bete that I was at the very same gig as you! And you know what, everything you said was absolutely true; I left the theatre that night thinking some of the exact same things, such as Sadowitz coming across as enjoying himself throughout the show, for example. As I read your wonderfully written review, I found myself saying at the end of practically every paragraph: "Yes, that's exactly it!"
Twas a great night, wasn't it? I can't remember the last time I actually enjoyed myself more!

Anonymous said...

Incidentally, my friend and I got to the theatre monstrously early that night since we had little else to do, and we saw Jerry Sadowitz arriving at the theatre! We were the only two people there at the time, aside from these dodgy paparazzi-type guys who asked to take pictures of him, but he refused and kinda backed away rather nervously, and then hurried into the theatre! I was just amazed because I'd always imagined other people to arrive with an entorage or something, going in via a secret way so that no-one would see them, but he just went in through the front, and it's obvious he took a bus/train to the venue and walked the rest. He was on his own, with a big backpack on his shoulder, and the clothes he wore on stage were what he travelled in. I thought to myself: "He's a lot more down to Earth than I realised!" Didn't try to approach him myself though; didn't have the guts haha!