Anthony Jeselnik at Montreal's Just For Laughs festival

Note: This review is from 2012

Review by Steve Bennett

Anthony Jeselnik isn’t going to let the current furore over whether it’s acceptable to make jokes about rape put any restrictions on his brand of nasty comedy. He starts with a rape gag and promises at least two more to come, and proves true to his word.

But since many of his jokes end in brutal deaths, usually of women, to pick up on these as being more offensive than anything else in his repugnant repertoire would be a moot point.

You’ve got to be cruel to be funny is the maxim, and Jeselnik’s persona is clearly the jerk in the room, arrogantly boasting that he is arguably ‘one of the greatest guys of all time’ while spouting his unpleasantness.

Morality aside – which I concede is quite a bold caveat – he is an excellent joke-writer, and the blunt efficiency of his set-up-punchline combos come with a kick, especially given the harshness of the payoffs. They may be guilty laughs, but there are plenty of them.

Bt the problem with this brand of comedy is that it can lead to a one-note set, and Jeselnik is no exception. Experiencing his show is like working in a police morgue, and you can soon become immune to the horrors his gags present, making his nastiness less and less of a surprise.

He can still get the laughs – and there were a fair few in this audience guffawing with every utterance – but the lack of light and shade does have a dulling effect. The delivery is unchanging, too, with each gag told in a very deliberate phrasing of a brief, pacy burst followed by a second’s pause.

He ends his set, as Jimmy Carr does, with a list of jokes of ever-increasing offensiveness to see where the audience’s walkout point is. He never reaches it, although the ratio of chortles to gasps certainly changes. Again there are some excellent jokes here, despite – or because of – their unpleasantness. But after nearly an hour of them, it’s time for a carbolic bath for the soul.

Review date: 24 Jul 2012
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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