Josh Howie: Chosen

Note: This review is from 2008

Review by Steve Bennett

A screwed-up childhood is almost a prerequisite for being a stand-up; why else would you seek the approval of strangers, if not to replace missing parental love?

In which case, Josh Howie certainly has the background, thanks to his dippy hippy mother. His main complaint – here at least – is that she made him flip-flop between Buddhism and various new-age fads on her ever-changing whims. In rebellion, he sought stability in his faith, so looked to rediscover his family’s Judaism, going as far as rabbinical school in Jerusalem.

Mum might have let her faith lapse, but in one sense she did remain typically Jewish; being scarily overbearing. His mother, as an avalanche of publicity has revealed, is PR guru Lynne Franks, Jennifer Saunders’ inspiration for her Ab Fab character Eddie. But on stage, Howie never mentions her by name. This is not ‘look at my crazy, famous mum’, but a personal journey of discovery through his religious roots.

There’s Jewish jokes aplenty in here; about his neurosis, about his circumcision (naturally), about the religious rituals. Some are as gentle as a simple pun, others are uncomfortable gags about the Holocaust or ironic, near-the-knuckle lines that could be misinterpreted as racist. But no matter the vast variations in style, Howie links them all together seamlessly.

He is a very smart and hugely sophisticated writer; pulling the interesting facts from his life, then mixing honesty and wit, and only then garnishing it with punchlines. Since some of these incidents left psychological scars – his eviction from his rabbi training, or the rebirthing with his naked mother – he doesn’t play them for out-and-out laughs, but there’s always inherent humour in such painful embarrassment, which Howie engagingly draws out.

The few moments when he deviates from the autobiographical, such as his brief burst of surprisingly ordinary ‘Muslims as terrorists’ gags, look artificial by comparison. This is rightly presented more as a storytelling show than stand-up, and needs to stick to that ethos.

Howie is clearly of geekish tendencies, as his ill-advised attempts to create a Jewish rap group prove, and his performance is the sort of assured nerviness that’s always going to lead to comparisons with Woody Allen.

He can be over-earnest, and though affable, he’s not a naturally warm comedian. Good job, then, that the savvy, self-deprecating, gently mocking script compensates.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

Review date: 1 Jan 2008
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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