It was with nervous anticipation that I took my seat, prudently near the back of the room, to watch the infamous Jerry Sadowitz perform his 90-minute set at The Old Queens Head, in Islington, North London, in preparation for his forthcoming run at the Leicester Square Theatre.
I had told a few people that I was off to watch the controversial and antagonistic comedian, and all of the responses were shocked splutterings of, ‘Blimey, well enjoy that then’ and ‘That’ll be an experience for you love!’ Civil responses leavened with knowing glances and raised eyebrows.
Some people gave me thoughtful advice such as ‘Make sure you sit at the back’ and ‘Whatever you do, don't heckle’ and ‘Do you know a punter once punched him in the face on stage in Montreal?’ The last one was surely more gossip than advice. But true gossip it turns out! Someone punched him in the face while he was on stage! Blimey. He must be pretty hardcore.
I am not easily offended. I'm not a girly girl who only likes watching My Family and repeats of The Good Life on the telly. I go to lots of live comedy gigs and I work in comedy production. Put it this way, I am very familiar with the C-word and it doesn't faze me.
So I was ready to be shocked, and possibly offended, but I was also looking forward to the show. I had also heard that Sadowitz was an awesome close-up magician, and being a fan of the likes of Pete Firman, I was pretty sure that, although it probably wasn't all going to be to my taste, I would certainly enjoy a trick or two with some cards or rope. (It's always cards and rope) But nothing could have prepared me for the terrifying experience that was Jerry Sadowitz.
I say 'experience' because I really can't define it as a show. It was a bit like going to the zoo and seeing a crazed animal, loping unhappily round a small cage and thinking ‘Shouldn't someone do something to help?’
The night was simply a tirade of racist, sexist, borderline-psychopathic bile. I counted about four or five jokes in total. The remainder of his 'set' felt a bit like watching a crazy character from a Shane Meadows film, some scary individual trying to head up a white supremacist rally or similar. I felt sure we were being filmed for a reality show. When was Davina going to pop out and tell us it’s all OK? Surely people like this don't actually exist in real life? Surely this is an ironic character? Nope. Truly and utterly shocking. I wanted to walk out. But I was a bit too scared.
We've all heard a joke that was 'borderline' acceptable. The kind of joke that maybe you have a little giggle about, and then think, 'Shit. Actually, that's well out of order’. Certainly jokes about rape and paedophilia are not uncommon on the circuit and they’re usually met with a mixed response. But nothing is really taboo. No subjects are strictly off-limits. In my experience though, the more daring the subject, the more attention is paid to it by the comedian. They really craft the material. They make it clever. They make it funny. There is usually an unexpected twist. The payoff is worthwhile.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Sadowitz's material.
Maybe I'm a bit naive, but I am genuinely really shocked when people are openly, unapologetically and aggressively racist.
Of course the first thing that people say when you report back that you’re disgusted by someone's racism, is ‘tell us some examples’ so they can judge for themselves. But I won't quote any of his material here. Not only to save the * key on my keyboard from packing in from over-use, but more importantly, I don't think it is helpful for punters to read single lines out of context. And although I didn't enjoy his material, he is still a working comedian and those words are still his bread and butter.
Unfortunately for Jerry Sadowitz, laughter was not something that featured heavily in the room. Sure, there was the odd smattering of stunned guffaws, ‘oohs’ and nervous titters. But the overwhelming response was that of embarrassed stony silence.
Not that he cares. He openly admits on stage that he couldn't give a toss what people think. He wants you to hate him. Bizarrely, he was even contemptuous of those who encouraged his views with laughter raging, ‘I fucking hate you cunts.’
Was it exciting? It certainly provoked a reaction. But then if a dog crapped on my foot it would probably provoke a reaction. It doesn't mean it should be on stage.
The other aspect of the show I found baffling was Sadowitz's rant about the success of Michael McIntyre. It was feeble, boring and reeked of jealousy. As a punter, it’s never fun to watch a comedian attack another comedian's work. It just comes across as lazy and bitter. I shouldn't have been surprised really. ‘Lazy and bitter’ was the theme of the show.
At one point material completely escaped Sadowitz – perhaps understandable as this was a preview – and he just stood there reeling off obscenities, shouting at the crowd with a crazed glint in his eyes, his mass of curly hair backlit by the glowing lamps on stage, making him look like the English bit-part actor in a top hat, hired to stalk Johnny Depp through the East End fog in one of those peculiar movies set in Victorian London Towne.
What seemed to upset him the most was that McIntyre's material is mainly of the observational variety Fair enough, it is. However, what amused me on the quiet was that all the jokes in Sadowitz's set were observational. The monotony of being served in Starbucks. Watching The One Show. The frustrations of having to speak to people in call centres. And his views on shopping at Currys. Yep, you can guess what piece of racist comedy gold he went for there. (Not only a rubbish joke, but factually inaccurate). The only difference between his material and McIntyre’s, is that McIntyre’s is funny. Oh and not racist.
For the sake of honesty I would admit that one of his jokes about why educational programmes on British TV are so patronising, was funny. I laughed. And on considered reflection, it is still funny, and not racist, sexist or too sweary. Good. That's something then.
Also, Sadowitz did pull off one or two quite spectacular card tricks, with a nice bit of banter. If the magic had been unconnected to the show, it would have had me clapping, cheering and whooping with the best of them, but after witnessing terrifying rants, that would make Bernard Manning blush, I couldn't bring myself to clap.
I can't pass judgement on the early career of Jerry Sadowitz, as being 27 years old, I rather missed that chapter of his professional life. So if you think I’m missing some ironic undertone of genius, please let me know.
Chatting to friends about Sadowitz's show, people have said things like ‘but he freely admits to being a failure’ and ‘but he insults all races and religions not just one’. Does that make it OK? I don't think it does. Does it make it funny? Nope.
I'm not against 'aggressive comedy'. Bitter rage can be a fertile ground. Frankie Boyle makes me laugh like a drain. Similarly, Carey Marx is a truly skilled comedian who can rant with the best of them. I love angry comedy as much as I love whimsy, poetry, songs or sketch comedy. I'm also aware that comedians like Frankie Boyle may not exist if it wasn't for the early work of comedians like Sadowitz.
Maybe I missed something. But if you do decide to go to make up your own mind, don't say you weren't warned.
- Bethan Richards works at Pozzitive Television and co-runs Comedy Gold, a monthly comedy night at The Old Queens Head. Follow her on Twitter @Miss_Bethan