Janeane Garofalo at Soho Theatre | Gig review by Steve Bennett

Janeane Garofalo at Soho Theatre

Note: This review is from 2013

Gig review by Steve Bennett

Janeane Garofalo tells us she’s on a Ritalin-type drug, normally given to kids with ADHD to help them concentrate. But she’s hardly an advert for it, given her skittish approach to the evening, losing track of threads, starting stories before the previous one had finished – and getting a shock when she was given the light showing she had five minutes left before she’d even got off the front page of the sheath of notes.

Her show might be a narrative atrocity, but it’s not to the detriment of the comedy. In fact, it only added to the fluid, conversational feel of the night, always alighting on a new topic for good reason, and drawing on her near 30-years experience in comedy.

Aside from her work on telly shows such as Ideal and The Larry Sanders Show, New York resident Garofalo is known as a political comic. But apart from calling the right-wing a ‘repository of human failing’ and querying why they get to set the news agenda (plus a brief digression into some old ‘war on terror’ cynicism) she generally kept her ideological stridency to herself.

That’s not to say she doesn’t keep up with the news, opening with a salvo of rough-and-ready thoughts drawn from recent headlines: Caroline Lucas’s arrest over fracking, the Peruvian drug-mule story, badger-culling and the possibly pregnant panda in Edinburgh zoo, which she attempted to tie in with devolution – no doubt because she’s just been in the Scottish capital for a brief run of Fringe dates.

None of this is well-formed, nor delivered with a particularly forceful attitude, but it showed her to be au fait with what’s going on in Britain. She’s even watched Jeremy Kyle and shopped at Primark – which is pretty much all the reference points you need to be an observational comic, it sometimes seems.

Not that she’s hack – she seems hyper-alert to anything that might be considered as such. The differences between the US and the UK are covered, for example, but by concluding that in Britain you can sympathise with the plight of the Palestinians without being branded an horrific anti-semite; but on the downside the queues in Whole Foods are a lot more chaotic than back at home, so swings and roundabouts.

She’s a curmudgeonly flibbertigibbet, but only to those she believes are worth her scorn. When one fan called her a ‘misanthrope’ at Edinburgh, she took issue. Her ire is entirely decided on a case-by-case basis, she insists, and that could mean anything from the friend who inconveniently insisted on getting married in rural Ireland to the putrid evil that is coconut water.

With such a bitty set, it’s perhaps inevitable that it’s hit and miss with the laughs – but the hits leave you in no doubt of her talent. Her best material puts twee self-help aphorisms to the sword. After all, she was heartbroken as a child to be told ‘not everyone is going to love you’ and now seems determined to spread the misery.

She has a sly technique of saying something brutally harsh, then reining back to make herself seem the heartless idiot for saying it, without actually retracting the thought. We can add that to the ledger of her personality traits that she keeps running throughout the show (assets: critical thinker, intellectually curious; liabilities: lack of focus, dumb).

She also has a strong finale about her dreams – the life goals, not the nocturnal fantasies – that involve either working in a bead shop with a punning title and/or being a high-functioning addict, even though she’s decided her years on the booze are behind her. Until she acts to achieve those desires, crafts-based collectives’ loss is comedy’s gain.

Review date: 27 Aug 2013
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Soho Theatre

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