Alex Lasarev: Illegal Import

Note: This review is from 2006

Review by Steve Bennett

Being deported was the best thing to happen to Alex Lasarev. Before that, he was just another cocky comic trying to grab some attention – which he usually did by shouting. But now he’s got a proper story to tell.

Because it turns out that all the while he was trying to climb up comedy’s greasy pole, he was doing so illegally. As a Canadian, he needed a working visa to perform here – yes, even unpaid – which he never had. Instead, he managed to talk his way through Immigration each time he entered the country with tales of visiting friends.

But once – after an ill-advised trip to Portugal in pursuit of a woman – he was rumbled. Not by some elite surveillance operation, but by Google. A suspicious immigration officer just ran his name through the internet and discovered he was performing when he shouldn’t have been.

He was booted out, but the scheming Lasarev found a way to sneak back. However three months later, after another stupid excursion out of the UK, he was caught out again, and this time for serious: cells, detention centres, driven in a cage to his deportation, the lot.

It’s a journey no one in his audience will ever have undergone – unless they, too, found another way back into the UK – and concerns a subject high on the political agenda, even though the first-hand experiences of genuine illegal immigrants are hardly ever heard in the media. How could it not be interesting?

And Lasarev can tell a story. He’s animated in his delivery when need be, but also able to step back and allow a change in pace. A couple of neatly-inserted callbacks and a driving narrative also keep things entertaining. The only thing his tale lacks – as he freely admits – is a conclusive ending, but then real life’s not as tidy as that. He just sauntered off the plane in Canada, and, well, that was that…

It’s probably fair to say Lasarev’s encounter with the Immigration Service isn’t exactly typical: he’s white, speaks English and compared to some Yardie ne’er-do-well, a smart-arse Canuck is probably the least of an immigration officer’s problems.

So his brief experiences of being banged up are more Porridge than The Shawshank Redemption, and he entertains by simply telling us how it was to be in such strange circumstances, fairly unembellished. Although as a comic with the requisite one-track-mind, whatever befell him, he was always comforted by the thought: ‘There’s material in this…’

It’s not crack-a-rib hilarious, but simply an interesting story, well told. In fact, the show only falters when Lasarev tries too hard to inject jokes, such as an awkward preamble unrelated to this tale, or his routine about ridiculous things he kept asking his warder for over his cell’s emergency intercom, stretching the premise too long, and over too many silly items. There’s a good reason comedy lists are compiled in accordance with the ‘rule of three’ rather than the ‘rule of 47’.

Truth is more engrossing than fiction; and Illegal Import works because it’s a real story, well told. Oh, and in case you’re wondering Lasarev is now legally back in the country, work permit and all.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Etcetera Theatre, London. November 2006

Review date: 1 Jan 2006
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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