Greg Proops at Soho Theatre

Note: This review is from 2012

Review by Steve Bennett

He’s still best known as an improviser from the Nineties, but in his modern stand-up guise, Greg Proops is a jackhammer of sarcasm, driving away relentlessly in his attempts to crack the hard ground of first-world complacency.

This withering state-of-the-nations address is a dense, intense 75 minutes, as this quick-talking American packs in opinionated rhetoric, lyrical exaggeration and good ole-fashioned piss-taking. Such a style demands an alert audience, and sometimes he has to berate this latish-night crowd for not giving him the recognition his sharp wit demands. Urging the audience to laugh more freely, he offers the simple guidance: ‘Whenever I’m done talking, it’s fucking hilarious.’

There’s a nice ambiguity about whether such arrogance is tongue-in-cheek. After all, with his sharp suit, bulletproof confidence, oratorial flair and air of superiority, Proops has demeanour of every middle-aged white man who’s convinced the world he and he alone knows how to run a country, a business or a bank.

He plays on that with his semi-sarcastically titled podcast The Smartest Man In The World, always worth a download, and in this stand-up show he garnishes the monologue with obscure, if superficial, references, to convince us he is an all-knowing oracle on top of his brief.

Of course that’s not necessarily – he’s just a comic with plausible air and enough bluster to hope we don’t notice the gaps. But just as in one moment he is berating us Brits for our inability and/or reluctance to pronounce French words properly, the next he makes a right pig’s ear of the admittedly unphonentic Irish place name Portlaoise. But at other places where he stumbles over his jam-packed words, he has the improvisational chops to get himself out of it with brilliant aplomb.

Whether the smartness is illusion or not, he is very compelling, and the set is wide-ranging, from behavioural observations to global politics, and bracingly relevant.

He starts, though, very American, with his comments that take for granted that we’re all aware that someone-or-other is from Delaware, and exactly what stereotype that confers upon them. But fret not, all you need know is that the great swathes in the middle of that vast nation are full of fat, god-bothering rednecks who devour country music and cholesterol, and you’ll be largely on the same page.

Proops acknowledges that this is a parochial opening section – at least as far as discussing a country of 300million can be parochial. But as a cultured, liberal San Franciscan and regular visitor to these shores, this former Whose Line Is It Anyway? regular is certainly plugged in to the British psyche. But the cocky, outsider’s status gives him an extra edge, even on subjects that might seem over-mocked, such as our misplaced efforts at making the London Olympics funky.

And as in fellow American Doug Stanhope’s current British tour, Proops is dismissive of the hippier elements of the Occupy movement – although he comes from a far more sympathetic starting point, with an obvious passion that the world is inequitable and needs to change. That it comes from an eloquent, well-turned-out charmer adds to its potency.

His main asset, though, is his commitment to the cause, laying on the insults and the barbed descriptions, so something as simple as describing a Irish Rail bacon sandwich becomes a forceful three-minute rant, full of both distain and hugely evocative imagery.

Sometimes the effect is more impressive than hilarious, as you marvel at his elegantly expressed and robustly constructed rhetoric more than laugh at it – which is perhaps the reason for his apparent irritation at our reticence. But then an ideas will burst forth in such a perfectly-posited nugget of pithy wit, that admiration collapses into amusement.

Review date: 23 Mar 2012
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Soho Theatre

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