Jeff Garlin at the Soho Theatre, London | Gig review by Steve Bennett

Jeff Garlin at the Soho Theatre, London

Note: This review is from 2017

Gig review by Steve Bennett

Curb Your Enthusiasm is, famously, mostly improvised. So, too, are star Jeff Garlin’s appearances at the Soho Theatre this Christmas, in which shuns many of the expectations and conventions of putting on a show. 

Instead, he’s just hanging out with his fans, shooting the breeze. He’s great company, but anyone anticipating a more structured, crafted performance – as well they might since tickets aren’t cheap – may need to check those expectations at the door.

The hour-and-a-bit starts as unconventionally, and with as little sense of occasion, as it means to go on, with Garlin sitting at a table being lobbed easy questions by fellow comic Naomi Cooper, when then opens up the interview to the floor. Is this going to be the show, we all wonder? It feels more like a lightweight podcast. 

Then Cooper introducers her boyfriend, Irish comic Conor Drum, to perform five minutes of stand-up – the usual post-millennial stuff about friends lost to marriage and the impossibility of home-ownership, the safe material very solidly delivered. American stand-ups like having support acts, but it’s slightly odd, not to say distracting, that Garlin and Cooper remain on stage behind him, chuckling away. 

Eventually, the mini-entourage depart, leaving Garlin to his own devices, which comprise more Q&A with the audience, but a little looser this time as he gets distracted by the woman with the thick hair, the Christmas wrapping paper beneath the front-row seats, or the couple who seem a little uncertain about their relationship. He has some honest Home Truths and no-bullshit life tips to share with the youngsters.

Like any good improviser, Garlin sets up running jokes for the night  – especially Henrick and his poor efforts at drumming up tourism for his native Denmark after the comic disses the nation as insignificant. For Garlin has a jaded world view what would appeal to Curb fans – he did create the series after all – but is always cheery about it.

Digression nestles inside digression until he gets to the point where he can tell a couple of stories, morsels of actual material after all the ad-libbing. 

A trip to Disney World triggers a rant against the lazy obese (fair game since he’s not exactly matchstick-thin himself); while the best yarn of the night involves an old guy trying to get his lotions and creams past airport security – an anecdote that elicits a most pleasing phrase, so delightful that Garlin conspires to repeat it thrice. He used the story in his Netflix movie Handsome, but he’s sanguine about the fact no one has seen it because at least it means he can reuse the yarn on stage.

Including more of these well-told tales would have given the night more a feeling of being a ‘proper’ show, but less a feeling of authenticity. He says he was ‘funny before kindergarten’ and that the natural wit of old Jewish men was an integral part of his upbringing, which has certainly helped form him into an instinctually amusing guy – and a surprisingly warm one, despite his on-stage cynicism. 

But as a show, it would feel more substantial with a few more set pieces and less reliance on his ability to wing it.

• Jeff Garlin is on at the Soho Theatre until December 30, although the run is sold out.

Review date: 21 Dec 2017
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