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Live Report - Jerry Sadowitz, 'Comedian, Magician, Bawbag!'

Posted on Monday, 18 February 2013 | No Comments

More comedy, and this time it's a report of Jerry Sadowitz's Leeds appearance on the 'Comedian, Magician, Bawbag!' tour. Here's what happens when you go to see the most furious and offensive performer out there...

From his first performances in the early 1980s onwards, Jerry Sadowitz has been synonymous with controversy and boundary-pushing provocation, mixing his billious and raging comedy material with deft and hilarious feats of magic. A brief period of relative popularity in the late 1980s/early 1990s aside (including a never-repeated BBC series, The Pall Bearer's Revue, in 1992) aside, the relentless and uncompromising nature of Sadowitz's work has kept him very much a cult concern.

In recent years however, Sadowitz's legend has blossomed and a new generation - this writer included - have become aware of the reigning king of shock-comedy. Never mind piss-weak imitators like Frankie Boyle : this is comedy where nothing is off-limits, nothing is not up for criticism and nothing is safe. The scarcity of material available - only a few poor-quality bootlegs circulate in lieu of any official releases, with Sadowitz himself frequently patrolling the internet to take down any work of his - has made him a unique case in the age of information overload. (Given the unrelenting, hate-fuelled rants anyone who manages to find any bootlegs will be subjected to, perhaps it's just as well he remains an essentially live-only concern -  this stuff could probably cause riots if it ever got into the mainstream. But I digress.)

As someone who likes to believe himself relatively hard to shock who has found himself both in thrall to gales of helpless laughter and occasionaly genuinely horrified by the bursts of abuse coming through my speakers from the bootlegs I'd heard, losing my live Sadowitz virginity was almost as exciting as losing my actual virginity, and certainly a good deal more terrifying. With a friend of mind already planning to attend, I booked a ticket for the Leeds date of his current tour and assumed the crash position.

With his 1987 album Gobshite having been withdrawn due to his retrospectively proven attacks on Jimmy Saville, and his current tour being promoted with a YouTube video riffing on this following recent revelations, some more material on the man Sadowitz once referred to as "a great British evil cunt" was obviously on the cards. Having Sadowitz come out on stage in Saville regalia to launch into ten minutes of material on the child abuse scandal, in character as Saville, including plenty of references on other accused figures however...well, it's with good reason that his shows are advertised as for adults only. Two hours later, it would be clear that this was the light relief in the show before he ploughed through the really dark shit.

An audio recording might give you an idea of the type of material Sadowitz deals in: bleak, shocking rants on anyone and everyone, with no clear ideology or agenda beyond pure unyielding anger. Being at one of his shows though? Well, whereas the former might be like going to the zoo to see some dangerous lions in their enclosure, the latter is more like breaking into the enclosure at night and putting your head in the lion's mouth. If you're going to enjoy Sadowitz live, note this: you will be offended at some point. That's just a given. You will be subjected to thoughts and ideas far beyond you comfort zone, wherever you sit politically. While other pseudo-shocking comedians always stop conviently just at the limits of acceptability, Sadowitz gleefully leaps over it, calling you all a set of fucking cunts as he does so. 

Even at his most indefensible though, what keeps the whole enterprise so engaging is the phenomenal comic talent Sadowitz has at his disposable. Getting people to laugh with a concept they can agree with is one thing: still getting them to laugh when they actively loathe what's being offered is quite another. While fuck's and cunt's might litter the set like wedding confetti, there's a remarkable eye for comic detail and for the perfectly constructed turn of phrase that makes his material shine, even at its darkest. Threatening to shove a red-hot poker up Michael McIntyre's arse cold end first, so he can laugh at him burning his hands trying to pull it out? Now that is how you construct a deadly accurate insult.

In a recent interview with NARC, Darren Hubbard asked which was worse, "the Guardian reading lot that over-analyse [his] comedy and think that it’s all irony, or the Daily Star types that take [his] brutal material at face value?" The thing about Sadowitz is, you can't explain it away so easily either way, and he knows this. As he says himself, on one level, it's all irony. But beneath that, he means it. But beneath that, it's all a joke. But beneath that, he really fucking hates you. But beneath that...

There's a few cracks in the armour, such as his introduction of his support act, where we might see something approaching the real Sadowitz. (Certainly, evidence suggests a different temperment off-stage). The point is though, you're never meant to know where you stand with him. You're not meant to agree, or disagree, or do anything really other than laugh and laugh. As merciless as his material is, the most vicious terms are always reserved for himself. Christ, this is a 52 year-old Glasweigian Jew whose current tour has him wearing an SS helmet for half the show while espousing praise for dictators: do you really want to say that we're meant to take that at face value? He's not trying to campaign for anything, or change our views. What he is trying to do is to shock us, surprise us, offer something unlike anything else out there. Away from the constraints of political correctness, he offers a warped kind of equality where everything is equally shit in his eyes.

Jerry Sadowitz is, inevtiably, never going to be for everyone. He's never going to be for most people, and I can't blame them. Gervais might make money out of playing (as he would have it) mongs, but it's through a gossamer-thin layer of irony and with a substantial disdain for an audience that's made him a millionaire. There's a strong argument to be made that the artistic laziness and sneering media-elite attitude of him, Boyle or Jimmy Carr is actually a good deal more offensive and problematic than anything that can come out of the mouth of a middle-aged, working-class Glaswegian who's never 'made it'.

Make it through a Sadowitz gig, and you'll be awarded with expert stand-up, some hilarious comedy magic (once he finally gets round to it) and the strange joy of knowing that you've looked the abyss in the eye, got told to fuck off and still made it just fine on the other side. Comedy, more than any other art form, has the great potential to confront humanity at its very worst and explore the unthinkable, because it can be serious without actually being serious. With humour comes the possibility of catharsis, if you're willing not to cling on to any closed-minded beliefs. You're not meant to believe a damn thing Sadowitz says, otherwise you're as fucked up as he is. Just strap in and enjoy the ride of a master craftsman laying waste to all constraints.

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