Rick Shapiro – Original Review

Note: This review is from 2008

Review by Steve Bennett

It’s a stand-up’s job to be an outsider, and the default way of expressing that is often to adopt sexually depraved, hedonistic stance: uncensored and uninhibited by the conventions of polite society.

But usually this persona packaged in a measured, unthreatening way. Unacceptable thoughts and deeds are exaggerated for the sake of a joke, but audience and comedian alike tacitly accept this is to some degree an act, a safe outlet for antisocial feeling as part of the game.

With an exclusive band of comics, however, you can never quite sure that they’re playing quite by these rules; and Rick Shapiro falls squarely into that category. There’s an authenticity to his wired, wild act that’s raw, visceral and risky, leading to a genuine frisson of unpredictability.

He never knows quite what he’s going to say next – despite the sheath of papers, the notes on his hand and the Post-Its pinned to the inside of his jacket as useless aide memoires – so how can the viewer?

When you hear of his past, it’s no wonder that his powers of recall are fading. He’s a former street hustler who prostituted himself for heroin. With all the chemicals he pumped around it, his brain no longer functions in the same way as everyone else’s – so it gives him a unique comic voice, albeit at a cost.

His sensibilities are forged from a tough life. There might be a degree of emotional tourism here – laughing as you vicariously relive his past misery – but you can’t deny he has experience you wouldn’t get from a well-to-do Oxbridge graduate.

Save for a mimed finale – pretty much the only bit of the show that seems prepared, and even then he bungles it – Shapiro doesn’t dwell too much on his past. But it is an ever-present factor, giving a rough, street edge to his every routine.

At last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, he performed to in an intimate, near-empty bohemian venue in The Green Rooms; where his in-your-face intensity was genuinely unsettling. In the formal surrounds of London’s Soho Theatre, that intimidaying force is gone; but Shapiro is none the more restrained.

The material is not for the faint-hearted; it’s uncompromisingly aggressive, often misogynistic and, to be frank, frequently unfunny – as he simply hasn’t the discipline to channel his crude emotions into punchlines.

But he gets laughs not so much from gags as from his screw-you attitude – whether in contempt for the audience when his failing memory causes a routine to unravel to nothing, riding the ‘oohs’ of indignant offence, or simply being brutally blunt in his reactions to incidents and people in his white-knuckle life.

Such a stance makes him more of a troubled artist than a reliable entertainer and – like Lenny Bruce – you can admire what he does without finding it all that amusing. Because of this, he’s probably for hardcore comedy fans only, a refreshing change for those blasé about slick, polished routines and prepared to accept such an mesmerisingly ill-structured, but undeniably honest, performance for what it is.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Soho Theatre, March 2008

Review date: 1 Mar 2008
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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