The experience of witnessing Jerry Sadowitz in action may result in queasiness, hypervigilance, rage, and other symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. His act is essentially a torrent of bile directed against every conceivable target. Not all of them are taboo as such. But most of them are. George Orwell once said that Rudyard Kipling ‘[cannot be] forgiven by any civilized person. . . he is morally insensitive and aesthetically disgusting’. Sadowitz is a less charming version of Rudyard Kipling. At this point, there is the temptation to follow other reviewers and write ‘BUT he is also one of the best comedians anyone has ever seen’. This would be misleading, because Sadowitz is not a genius in spite of the fact that he is unforgivable: his brilliance lies within his bigotry.
For civilized people such as you and I, this is a massive spanner in the works. During his set, I found myself laughing involuntarily at something I would be embarrassed to admit I found funny; and when I was able to take my eyes off the spectacle of Sadowitz’ weather-beaten, green-jacketed, jester-from-hell figure, I saw several people undergoing the same experience. Other members of the audience seemed to be enjoying his more stereotypically racist material a bit too much, which made for an unexpected lesson in crowd psychology. I have never seen collective laughter, which normatively provides a comedian with his raison d’être, rendered suspect in such an unobvious way.
Of course, I am willing to concede that I might learn a thing or two about the banality of evil from attending a Jim Davidson show. But the difference between the two is that Sadowitz has an onstage persona, and Davidson does not have an offstage persona. More importantly, Sadowitz’ material lingers after the show has finished. He forces his audience to reconsider what first seemed obvious. In calling women ‘the Jews of the species’, he is bracketing and insulting both women and Jews. However, Sadowitz himself is Jewish, which raises a question as to whether he might be sympathising with women more than he is letting on. Even more prescient is a second joke: ‘How do you crucify a Spastic? On a swastika.’ Is Sadowitz simply mocking the disabled while appearing to endorse Nazism? Or is he pointing out that it takes a certain type of political thinking in order for atrocities to occur? Is the ‘Spastic’ mocked or martyred in this joke? Does this joke – widely laughed at by the audience – make a serious point?
Comedy is a medium which, in recent years, has been poorly represented by its more mainstream purveyors. Sadowitz knows this, and accordingly spends a good part of his set lambasting other, more famous, comedians. There is more than a modicum of jealousy in that, but for a performer of this calibre it hardly needs to be forgiven. More artistry exists within five minutes of Sadowitz’ material than in the entire sets of good, even great, comedians. His is a trauma worth paying for.