Jazz Emu: Knight Fever | Review of the funky musical comedian at the Soho Theatre © David Monteith-Hodge
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Jazz Emu: Knight Fever

Review of the funky musical comedian at the Soho Theatre

Jazz Emu surely deserves a knighthood for his contribution to musical comedy. Prolific and prodigiously creative, this throwback to the louche 1970s funk era delivers a constant stream of groovy, whimsically amusing songs – all backed with slick pro-level videos – to the hundreds of thousands of social media followers he has amassed.

In Knight Fever, the vainglorious muso makes a more shameless bid for the regal honour. The premise is that he is rehearsing for his set at the Royal Variety Performance, where the King will bestow a knighthood on one, and only one, of the participants. The would-be Sir Jazz has to select the track from his repertoire that would win over the Monarch and secure him the sword-tap above the clear favourite, Kelly Clarkson.

So the convoluted but clever storyline is set in motion. It’s something of a cumbersome device – getting in the way of the songs as much as it frames them – but nonetheless delivers wittily offbeat lines while building its surreal elements into a satisfyingly stupid finale. (A shaggy-dog story about exerting Heaven is probably not needed, mind)

However, the main attraction is a toss-up between the impressive music and Jazz Emu’s carefully curated persona – aloof and egotistical, yet too emotionally repressed to deliver the soulfulness his genre usually requires. Instead he is inspired by the trivial – a DVD player’s default holding screen or a viral video of a snake drinking from a bottle of Sprite.

‘My utter lack of ego is godlike,’ he sings in his irony-drenched introductory song, boasting about how no one shares the spotlight like him. For the first time, he is touring with a band he can lord it over, the ‘contractually less talented than him’ four-piece Cosmique Perfectión, who, in their shimmering Sgt Pepper jackets, fill out his already melodically impressive tracks. Although true to his raging conceit, they are underused comically.

The mismatch between the pretentiously presented Virtuoso musicality and the mundanity of the lyrics is a big part of the joke. Mocking a scammer’s poorly-spelled email might be shooting phish in a barrel, but the ambition of the track raises this well beyond the hack.

Videos which accompany the songs are a highlight, especially if you haven’t previously seen them online.  In them, Archie Henderson – the man behind Mr Emu – is joined by some of the aristocracy of alternative comedy, most notably  Sam Campbell as his dodgy best mate, Eggerson Keneavey. Elsewhere Henderson uses tech, especially generative AI, to amusingly stupid effect. 

All of which is delivered by our frontman with stony-faced, too-cool-for-school reserve. The facade never slips, so we never really get to learn what makes him tick – and that lends this 70 minutes the feeling of a gig with some skits tacked on more than a three-dimensional theatrical experience.

But with songs as artfully funky as this, it doesn’t really matter.

» Jazz Emu is at Soho Theatre until June 22, followed by a run at the Pleasance Fringe and a newly announced UK tour next year. Jazz Emu tour dates.

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Review date: 10 Jun 2024
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Soho Theatre

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