mon 19/11/2018

Edinburgh Fringe 2018 reviews: Ari Shaffir/ Ashley Blaker/ Janeane Garofalo | reviews, news & interviews

Edinburgh Fringe 2018 reviews: Ari Shaffir/ Ashley Blaker/ Janeane Garofalo

Edinburgh Fringe 2018 reviews: Ari Shaffir/ Ashley Blaker/ Janeane Garofalo

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Ari Shaffir charts his move away from his Orthodox upbringing

Ari Shaffir ★★★★

There are some super-talented US comics at the Fringe this year, and Ari Shaffir is among them. The edgy, no-holds-barred New Yorker lays it out there with his show title, Jew, in which he charts why he has left his Orthodox upbringing behind. It started by asking questions of his rabbis – and two years at a yeshiva (a school that focuses on the study of the Talmud and the Torah) in Israel gave him the ammunition, but perhaps not in the way his teachers had intended.

As you might expect of a dry-witted comic, the questions were not of the existential variety but rather ones such as: “Who did Adam fuck before Eve?” and “If the naughty people from Sodom were sodomites, what on earth did people in Gomorrah get up to?”

In an hour filled with big laughs, Shaffir expertly deconstructs some stories from the Bible, most memorably Adam's rib and how Noah was chosen for the Ark task, thus making him “the world's first zoologist”. He knows his stuff, and mines the arcane detail that rabbinical scholars go into when discussing the Jewish equivalent of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. For instance, at what point does pea soup become non-kosher if some bad gentile chucks a bit of ham into the pot? I won't reveal the percentage of ham to pea, but it's probably nowhere near the figure you think.

The show is packed with facts that Shaffir fashions into a very funny and well crafted hour, and his takedown of God's supposed obsession with gay men is subtly weaved through it. The callback that ends the show, meanwhile, is inspired.

  • Heroes @ The Hive until 26 August

Ashley Blaker ★★★

By contrast, Londoner Ashley Blaker has gone in the other way in his Jewish journey. Brought up in a middle-class secular family, he found his faith as an adult and is now Orthodox. Observant Jew gently mocks aspects of gentiles' perception of Jewishness (there's a game of Jewish comedy bingo, for instance, ticking off things such as bagels as they are mentioned) while explaining why some people have been confused by his choices.

I suspect many of those are the people he works with in television as a writer and producer. Blaker has worked on shows including Little Britain and, being observant, doesn't own a television to watch the shows he has worked on. But he tells us his dentist has a large TV screen over his treatment chair, so Blaker has to catch up with his TV-watching there – he started eating loads of sweets to create cavities yet there are only so many teeth to fill...

Blaker unearths some great nuggets of Jewish trivia, such as the collectors' cards of famous rabbis, and offers a useful guide to rules that Orthodox Jews live by – men not shaking hands with women outside their family, for instance. He says: “My wife and I always greet each other with a firm handshake. If we’re feeling really romantic, we’ll shake hands for hours.” And yet while he's an amiable host, he can't sustain the laughs over an hour.

  • Underbelly @ Bristo Square until 26 August

Janeane Garofalo ★★★

US comic Janeane Garofalo doesn't do jokes, she tells us at the top of the show – filibustering is more her thing, and so it proves as she gives a freewheeling hour in Put a Pin in That. The title is repeated a few times as she mentions a subject and says she'll go back to it later; in some instances she does, in others the anecdote is left hanging.

Sometimes she comes to an abrupt halt just as the story seems to be nearing a punchline; she references Cicero at one point, for instance, but loses the thread halfway through the thought – and off she goes at yet another tangent. She likes a tangent, does Garofalo 

Talking both from the stage and among the audience, Garofalo mentions her neediness – “Validation from people I've never met defines me” – and spins a seemingly stream-of-consciousness set about, among many other things, being an inveterate walker, taking on rude young boys and being a fan of ancient British television shows such as The Professionals and Lovejoy.

The loose structure may suggest this is more a work-in-progress than finished show – she has Post-It notes in the folder she brings on stage, for example – but I think Garofalo knows exactly what she's doing. The rambling style is something that you either get on board with or hate. I'm in the former camp but it's a risky approach; on the night I saw her, Garofalo pulled it off but apparently other audiences have left bemused.

Gilded Balloon until 19 August

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