Jerry Sadowitz: More than just nigger jokes

Gavin Allen enters the heart of darkness

Have you ever seen a magician saw a woman in half?

One has to wonder at the sick mind that invented that illusion; dismemberment as entertainment with an added gush of misogyny.

But no one is morally outraged by it because they know it is an illusion. If the trick were to actually cut a woman in half and bow as she bled to death, it would be different; frowned upon in some circles.

But ask yourself what would be the reaction if a magician cut a woman in half and then dropped the curtain without putting her back together, without telling you if she survived?

Would the audience call the magician a murderer? Would they discuss his motive for choosing to show only a part of the whole?

Consider a second scenario. A man punches you in the face. It hurts. His friend punches you in the face too, but tells you he doesn’t really mean it. But does it hurt any less?

I found myself thinking about these things after seeing my first Jerry Sadowitz gig. Let’s swap the physical violence for linguistic violence in that metaphor.

A comedian spews vile racist bile. It hurts to hear it. A second comedian spews vile racist bile, but you presume a level of irony because of critical praise from usually trusted sources. But does it hurt any less?

Allow me a second clumsy parallel. Sadowitz revelled in jokes about the shootings in Tuscon, Arizona. ‘Too soon?’ are not words in his vocabulary.

Sarah Palin’s material on the tragedy made me laugh too. The gun-toting idiot queen of America puked up the Jew-slandering term ‘blood libel’ on the day of the memorial service. Palin knew exactly what she was doing. She used the term to appeal to her voting base

It made me sick to watch her slither around in self-justification in the wake of the ensuing controversy, as she attempted to assuage the critics she will need to convince if she is to win a presidential race.

Palin’s message is clear: ‘I hate them because they are different, but you should like me because I am like you.’

What Sadowitz does is different. He gives voice to the feelings you suspect Palin harbours but hides.

He fires every offensive term he can imagine out of that saliva cannon he calls a mouth, offending every group or minority he can.

He begins by attacking his own Scots-Jewish heritage, encouraging you to laugh at him. Next, he encourages you to laugh at some a minority group – gays or Muslims – until his roving target eventually settles on you. Are you big enough to laugh at yourself?

If you’re gay, you’re a cunt. A woman? A literal cunt. A man? A total cunt. An Obama supporter? A stupid, gullible cunt. He likes that term, in case you were wondering.

Yet among the bile, as if to amuse himself, he throws in acute socio-political observation; Obama is a puppet president ushered in to absorb the nation’s fury while America it deals with financial collapse. As soon as the neo-con war machine is back on its wheels, Barry will be out of the White House door. Obama, he suggests, has been set up to fail.

The work of a paranoid mind? He’d hate you to think anything less, although he prefers the term psychopath.

But it’s when you factor in his obvious intelligence that the questions arise. Somehow, in his hatred for absolutely everyone, he creates true equality. He does not preach hate for one group to bolster the cause of another. He won’t say ‘I hate the blacks, Hitler had the right idea’.

No. His philosophy would be more like: ‘I hate the blacks. But Hitler was a cunt too’.

Does he mean it? Is he actually a racist? One skit of his current show sees him don a series of hats to creates characters and to declare with each new disguise, ‘This is the real me… no, this is the real me’. He doesn’t answer the question most regularly asked of him, he simply turns it back on his audience.

He asks why comedians are allowed to get away with saying whatever they like, provided they are in character. Why, one might ask, is Little Britain so free from criticism when it simply mocks society’s soft targets? Matt Lucas plays a cripple, mocks the gays. David Williams blacks up as an obese woman, plays an incontinent pensioner.

Sadowitz even asks for the audience to shout out comedians’ names so he can tell you why he hates them, professing love for none, not even Stewart Lee. In doing so you suddenly sense that he is not on the level, that these are not things that he actually thinks. And if one skit is a deception…

But - and this is the thing I can’t resolve – regardless of his intentions, is it right to peddle that stuff on stage? There were people in the audience who took it all at face value. An older couple, perhaps attracted by a favourable review in The Times that week, were reviled. One punter laughed too hard, consistently, at the gay jokes. Another did the same with the racist material. Sadowitz can attract and nourish the wrong sort of audience.

I return to the Palin analogy. She claims her ‘cross-hairs’ map, which targeted Gabby Giffords’ seat among others, was in no way a direct cause of the Tuscon massacre. And she is right. But Palin refuses to see that, in a nation that is happy to arm its mentally ill, her approach contributes to a climate of violence. Some people cannot tell the difference between pretence and reality. That is the crevice in which Palin grows.

But, if I criticise Palin for that - and I do – how can it be right for Sadowitz to vomit that level of hatred into society? It is one of those unfathomable questions such as ‘when does a thing become art?’ and ‘why is Kerry Katona?’

But when you leave a comedian’s show and you can’t stop thinking about it for days, he must be doing something right; something deeper than nigger jokes.

The old critical line on Sadowitz is that he speaks to the monster in all of us, vocalising the things we think but would never say. He teases you into a guilty compliance and then tells you what a cunt you are.

Palin speaks to the monster in us too, but her end game is different. Palin needs voters to agree with her. She thinks she is brave, putting her head above the liberal parapet to decry the Democrat dickheads with their trophy black president.

I credit Palin with the courage to stand up for what she believes, but I find her views reprehensible. She consistently shows herself to be ill informed too, though she would have you believe she isn’t. No one would knowingly elect a moron, would they?

Sadowitz is the opposite. He is the bravest comedian I have ever seen. He has the courage to let you think he is a monster. At the end of his shows there is no big reveal, no self-justification or note of comfort for the audience.

Sadowitz is brave enough to cut the woman in half and drop the curtain without showing you whether or not she survives.

I wonder if Palin is available to be his assistant?

Published: 25 Jan 2011

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