‘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.
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.