Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Stewart Lee and Jerry Sadowitz

The series Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle, BB2 on Mondays, came to an end this week. I have enjoyed the series and hope that there will be another in the future. Lee’s style is one which deserves admiration. He discusses a subject in a nonchalant way, seemingly following a ‘stream of consciousness’ process and yet making use of well thought out repetitions of phrases and concepts. He comments on the absurdities of life and occasionally also on the situation of being a stand up comedian performing to a live audience. The latter goes so far as to him admitting that a particular tale he is telling, of something that happened to him the week before, is a fiction; even so, he keeps telling the tale whilst explaining which parts are not true and the fictional characters in the tale begin to ask him what does he think he is he doing. It is comedy which could be theatre of the absurd at its most accessible. After watching this series, I regard Stewart Lee as being the Samuel Beckett of stand up comedy.

An extra treat in the last episode was Jerry Sadowitz imitating Jimmy Savile in a sketch. A unique comedian, and a unique magician, Sadowitz has been missing from our television screens for far too long and I hope that he will appear on television more in the near future. A misunderstood performer, sometimes deliberately misunderstood by some, it may be the case that television producers cannot see beyond Sadowitz’s stage persona to the experienced professional behind it, cannot tell fact from fiction in the fuss about the image that accompanies his comedy persona. During his live shows he presents the audience with a persona of an aggressive, loud, opinionated, foul mouthed Glaswegian who airs shocking points of view that can invoke an occasional negative response from a few audience members; Sadowitz then gets called racist, sexist, etc., despite the fact that those people bought a ticket to the show in order to laugh at a racial stereotype: an aggressive, loud, opinionated, foul mouthed Glaswegian who airs shocking points of view.

An audience watching comedian Omid Djalili (whose brilliant new series began this week on BBC1) when he imitates a Middle Eastern accent and declares “and that is why the West must be destroyed” tend to laugh because they are laughing at a racial stereotype. They do not believe that Djalili is a Middle Eastern terrorist or that he means what he is saying; they know it is only a comedy act. It is different with Sadowitz, an audience seems to believe that the comedy character they are being presented with is genuinely who Sadowitz is as a person and that the things said really are his own sincerely held views. It is a bit like believing that Omid Djalili really is a Middle Eastern terrorist or believing that Warren Mitchell really is Alf Garnet. At one of Sadowitz’s shows which I watched, at least three times during the show he had to point out to a small number of audience members that it was a comedy act and that he did not really mean what he was saying, that he is a comedian and it is just an act. The crux of the matter can be highlighted by a further comparison with Djalili. When Djalili has finished using his Middle Eastern persona he can revert back to using his own voice, which has an English accent. When Sadowitz has finished using his ‘extreme’ Glaswegian persona, he still has a Glaswegian accent. It is much easier for people to differentiate between Djalili and his Middle Eastern persona than it is for them to do the same with the real Glaswegian Jerry Sadowitz and his fictional foul mouthed Glaswegian used as a comedy persona. (Before anyone points it out, yes, I know that Sadowitz was born in America but he was raised in Glasgow and has a Glasgow accent.)

I sometimes wonder if there is a touch of racism against the Scottish and Glaswegians in the people who refuse to accept that Sadowitz is not the obviously exaggerated Glaswegian stereotype he uses as a stage persona. From the descriptions given by people who know Sadowitz personally and even from some journalists who have bothered to take the time to look behind the stage persona instead of exploiting it, it is to be found that Sadowitz is a quiet person who is teetotal and shares little in common with the character he presents on stage.

A tiny, tiny glimpse of the real Jerry Sadowitz is given in the book This Virtual Life: Escapism and Simulation in Our Media World by Andrew Evans and it is given by Sadowitz himself. Not only did he contribute to a modest part of Evans’ research for the section of the book which deals with the media, trickery, magic and audience reactions thereon, Sadowitz also wrote the foreword to the book. Not even the slightest hint of his stage persona is to be found in there and we meet someone else entirely.

The real Jerry Sadowitz is, perhaps, none of our business. He is entitled to his privacy and as a performer, the product 'Jerry Sadowitz, Comedian and Magician' is probably all we will be allowed to know. However, I sometimes wonder if Sadowitz wishes that people, including television producers, would realise and remember that there is a real Jerry Sadowitz that is different from the comedy persona. Something that Spike Milligan once said in a television interview, for me, highlights why people are so ready and willing to believe the outrageous about Sadowitz (or others) without looking deeper. Milligan was telling a hilariously ludicrous story that was supposed to be a true event and another guest on the show recognised the story; he stated he knew the people involved and it did not happen the way Milligan was telling it. Milligan gestured towards the audience and asked "What do you think these people want to hear? A boring truth or an interesting lie?"


  1. Nice article, make sure to check out Comedy Vehicle's red button extras, Armando and Stew talking to each other!(that'd sound crap if it was anyone else)

    I heard Sadowitz put some images on his site that stopped C5 from offering him a new show?

  2. That's the story according to Wikipedia. Whether or not it's true - only C5 and Sadowitz knows.


Anonymous comments are not allowed on this blog. If your full name is not submitted as well as your comment, the comment will not be published. Those that submit via means which only give a forename or nickname will not be published.