I Eat People Like You For Breakfast!
Show type: Edinburgh Fringe 2003
Steven Alan Green's journey from a painful childhood in celebrity infested Beverly Hills to meeting and dealing with comedy legend Jerry Lewis.
Last year, Steven Alan Green produced a comedy benefit at the London Palladium: a gig that attracted notoriety when its headliner - Jerry Lewis - collapsed in the wings moments before he was due on stage.
This is the behind-the-scenes story of that show, of Green's struggles with the notoriously demanding comic icon, and the £40,000 the production ended up costing him.
It's a suspiciously one-sided story, tinged with self-aggrandisement and full of excuses for an evening that was already a debacle before Lewis's health scare.
The vast auditorium was somewhere between a half and a third full - many of those tickets having been given away to comedy insiders - suggesting the marketing had been a flop
The cost of providing an 18-piece orchestra, flying a contingent of US comics across the Atlantic, plus hiring a suite at the Dorchester hotel ate into any profits the Turning Point drug charity could ever have hoped to see.
And the show was overlong, oversentimental, overpriced and under-funny before Lewis even left his dressing room.
Green barely touches on any of this, and he certainly doesn't take any responsibility for it. The sky-high costs are explained away as a necessity to get a video release of the show in the States - though why he couldn't have recorded a separate show in the US remains a moot point. This is no mea culpa.
At the time, rumours flew around that the king of the pratfall had seen a way out of appearing in such a fiasco, The ambulance never took him to hospital, and similar incidents had, reportedly, happened before. Did Lewis throw it? Green leaves the question hanging... although it's clear he suspects it.
So much for the agenda of this belated justification of a dreadful show. But does the explanation work as a show in its own right?
Ironically for a piece about a gig that ended in disaster, I Eat People Like You For Breakfast started that way.
Green, a comic with two decades experience, was incredibly nervous about his monologue. When some weak early gags failed to raise the tides of laughter he expected, he broke the fourth wall to berate the sparse audience.
This must have happened about half a dozen times - including throwing out a loudmouth who hadn't yet proved himself a threat to the show, and asking the audience if we really wanted him to carry on with the show because we weren't reacting the way he wanted.
If he had deliberately set out to create a palpable atmosphere of awkward embarrassment, he couldn't have done much better. But this was by accident, not design.
It was all entirely unnecessary, too, as once Green pulled himself together, he proved himself a compelling storyteller, getting the audience to hang on his every word. An achievement even more remarkable given the paucity of the material.
Green certainly believes in starting at the beginning, and he kicks off by outlining his upbringing in New York and Beverly Hills, sharing the sort of background details you could find in a biography of most successful comics.
Problem is, it's harder to care about the childhood, early Borscht Belt gigs and Ed Sullivan TV appearances when it's someone you don't know, than it is an admired comedy icon.
He drops names like confetti, but with no real point, and uses the word 'paradigm' three times in five minutes - twice more than necessary to automatically render the speaker as a pretentious show-off with an automatically invalid argument.
He's remarkably self-obsessed, too, and not in the normal insecure way of the stand-up.
He compares Jerry Lewis twice turning down his requests as like the two planes careering into the World Trade Center. And the show closes with his personal devastation illustrated by film of the atomic bombs falling on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A bit of perspective needed, possibly.
There's not a lot of laughs in this - the biggest coming from a videotape of Daniel Kitson's disconcertingly prescient comment from the gig, describing it as a third-full theatre waiting to see a dying man.
Yet people do remain interested, such is Green's mastery of the raconteur's art. He's got the pace, nuances and rhythm of a seasoned pro. If only he had better material to apply it to.
Earl Okin. - 22/02/2004
I wasn't at this performance, but I was part of the show at the Palladium and it was a GREAT show. I stood and watched most of it. Frankly, had even Jerry Lewis performed, it would have been some of the others I enjoyed that would have stayed in my mind...Rick Overton, for instance..and that's only one... We saw a whole mixture of comedic styles in one show. Maybe your reviewer only understands a very narrow form of comedy, which is current UK stand-up... The only bit he seems to have enjoyed was for me the most shameful moment of the evening...Kitson's nasty, nasty comment, especially since he must surely have known that Lewis was listening... Of-course, this one-man show only uses the story of the Palladium night as a leaping off point for a sort of comedic self-analysis, again something that seems to have been missed by your reviewer...