The Jokes Saved My Soul – Rosemary Branch Theatre, London

Reviewer: Jane Darcy

Writer: Harmon Leon

According to the publicity, The Jokes Saved My Soul, a one-man show by New York comedian Harmon Leon, offers ‘a multimedia extravaganza and a nod to Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape.’ Perhaps something has got lost in translation across the Atlantic, but there’s very little extravaganza and no obvious allusion to Beckett.

Harmon’s schtick is that there are two Harmons: a confident, fearless ‘On-Stage Harmon’ and an anxious awkward ‘Off-Stage Harmon’. It’s hardly a profound or original concept. Awkwardly, and presumably unintentionally, his confident persona falters during the show when his jokes fail to land. So, for example, when there is no reaction to a reference to Tinder, he goes off-script, asking anxiously if we’ve heard of it. This is the second comedy this week that tries to get a laugh by referencing the Joe Rogan Podcast and us met with silence. Worse still, we have a comedian trying to squeeze comedy out of that long-since-sailed ship, the pandemic.

The multimedia part involves a so-so video with faintly animated cartoon characters. He reacts with some effect with a cartoon Hank Williams, but it isn’t exactly edgy (not helped by ‘EDGY’ repeatedly flashing up on the screen).

The jokes themselves are wondrously feeble. One example will suffice: he’s scared of going to Sweden in case he develops Stockholm Syndrome. They’re all of this Christmas-cracker calibre. We get a bit of his Jewish background, a bit of his dad buying a funeral plot. But Leon, who is also a writer, doesn’t seem to be a natural stand-up. It doesn’t help that his short show is tied to his underwhelming multimedia track, so he cannot respond in the moment when material just isn’t working. He simply has to plough on, and seeing ‘SEGUE’ join ‘EDGY’ in onscreen only emphasises the fact.

All in all, Leon seems uneasy and lacking in comic agility and this makes for uncomfortable viewing. Perhaps he’ll loosen up when his show reaches Edinburgh.

Runs until 6 August 2022 and then plays at Edinburgh Fringe

The Reviews Hub Score

Lacks comic agility

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