Stand-up Gerry Sadowitz tells Stephanie Billen why he keeps his comedy so abusive he gets banned.
It is lunchtime in a pub in Soho and Gerry Sadowitz, the stand-up comic who takes nothing lying down. is nursing even more grievances than usual.
For a start there's Bing Hitler. ‘There is to be no mention of Bing Hitler in this interview‘, intones Gerry in an attempt to give me at least one official, on-the-record, non-suable quote on the subject. There is much more to say of course, but relating the saga ofallegedly stolen material would require even more legally advised blanks than appeared in this year‘s Festival Fringe programme, where Gerry‘s description of his act was edited to read: ‘Gerry “Gobshite” Sadowitz is an extremely abusive, offensive, funny commedian/magician from Glasgow. Too offensive for the telly he's had his act ripped off. . . and his material stolen for television and radio.‘
In any case Gerry, who has weathered one expensive settlement already, has enough on his plate without looking for more trouble. ‘I‘m sorry I can‘t hear anything.‘ he says carefully sipping a soft drink in deference to his antibiotics course. An ear infection has been getting him down to the extent that he is beginning to hate his body as much as he hates everything else. He is publicised as hating ‘living things‘, ‘objects‘ and, in case that missed anything out, ‘miscellaneous.’ It‘s not a joke. ‘I‘d say the proportion of my act that‘s real is 70%. It‘s what I‘ve become rather than an act. I‘m a product of the society I live in. When I was a little boy I expect I was quite a nice kid. Maybe if I‘d had a job, I‘d be a different person now.‘
As it is, the 26 year old ex-busker has gained an alarming reputation for ‘total abuse‘, to quote the title of his sell-out show at the Fringe this year. Yet in person he is far from the Socialist Alf Garnet you would imagine. He comes across quite simply as a friendly, sincere, likeable person who happens to harbour
rather more righteous anger than most of us about everything that‘s unlikeable and insincere in society. ‘The planet is really unwell and it needs a two week holiday in Bournemouth‘, he prescribes. Until such time, Gerry will go on publicly hating, using all those appropriate hate words that will ensure his permanent ban on television.
Sit in the back row of his show (to avoid the spit), and you‘ll hear the rapid, ferocious tongue at work, his impersonation of a Tory minister: ‘Just the other day, my next-door neighbour was popping out to the shops and he asked me to look after his dog for a few minutes — so there are jobs;‘ his simultaneous imitation ofJimmy Saville‘s voice, and the noises you make when you‘re masturbating; his description of what he would like to do to Red Ken, ‘I‘d like to fuck Ken Livingstone just to change the expression on his face‘; or his diatribe on the letter E, ‘snobby bastard doesn‘t figure in a single swear word‘.
The planet’s really unwell
A few Tommy Cooperesque attempts at magic, and the shaggy-haired comic is off again. ‘Terry Waite, I don‘t know, you give some people a fiver and you never see them again‘; ‘The Tories, I have this dilemma. I hate the Tories, who want to kill OAPs, but I hate the CAPS even more. Neo-nazi scum-bags. They‘re taking over you know. They‘ve got all the game-shows sewn up. They even took over Blind Date. Slaughter them at birth, I say‘; ‘Notice I haven‘t slagged off the Socialist Party yet, well if there was one I would. . . ‘
Backstage and to a ribald audience of his sister and friends, the jokes are still flowing as fast as the sweat. Eager for reassurance, yet clearly ready to do it all again if asked, the Jewish comic launches into his Jewish impersonation: ‘Lovely
jacket, lovely jacket. Won‘t you kindly lend me a cigarette? Unfortunately I left mine in the machine . . .‘
But here in the pub, it is a different Sadowitz. No longer clad in bright red trousers and a jacket huge enough to accommodate any number of moderately impressive magical props, he is in non-descript jeans and sweater, mane ofcurls emerging from a cloth cap, the face underneath more gaunt and hawk-like than it appears on stage. He‘s just been shopping to buy more magic tricks — at vast expense as he‘ll tell you bitterly — and the plastic bag propped against the table, together with his Dennis the Menace fan club badge, are the only indications that this is the controversial performer who had rows with Bing Hitler in Edinburgh and whose act has been acclaimed at London venues like the Tunnel Club, the Comedy Store, and most recently, the Bloomsbury Theatre. Even his notorious anger sounds more like a clown‘s sadness. He admits to being a fatalist. ‘There will be a nuclear holocaust. It‘s only a question of time. The world hasn‘t learnt from past mistakes. . .The only hope is maybe Reagan won‘t have the gumption to know what to do with the the button.‘ His basic premise is simple: ‘Life is shite, and people should realise that.‘ He pauses, before adding, ‘And you can‘t win — Those are the two absolute cosmic facts, and if you actually accept that about life, it gives you a lot more strength to get through it.‘ He seems suprised to hear me ask if that means people are shite too. ‘No, people are a mixture of good and bad - Though there‘s probably a section who are total bastards, aye.‘
It sounds reasonable enough, but Gerry‘s policy of poking fun at absolutely anything has proved far from universally acceptable. ‘IfI thought you couldn‘t laugh at everything, I‘d give up. If I died tomorrow, I hope people would have a good laugh. In a way, the more disgusting or embarrassing it is, the best thing is to laugh at it‘. Much as he hates the Thatcher regime he is not afraid to criticise the Kinnock Labour party: ‘It‘s disgusting that Scotland put all its faith in Kinnock and he is already selling out to the yuppy vote. I‘m very, very sorry for Scotland and I don‘t see how the country will have the heart to vote Labourin the next election. . . He should have backed the miners . . .
They should have gone as far left as Maggie‘s gone far right. Deep down I don‘t like any politicians. Ifyou had any real integrity you‘d not be one.‘
He has deliberately reacted against the piously left-wing ‘alternative‘ comedians. ‘Ben Elton‘s done more damage to comedy than Bernard Manning‘, he claims. When Gerry appeared to students in Aberdeen he was jeered off stage after the first four minutes. ‘I didn‘t last beyond the first ‘cunt‘. They think I‘m sexist or racist and it is because they have been overfed with Ben Elton and his very rigid idea of comedy. I have very legitimate reasons for being annoyed with him. He‘s taken
‘ comedy and restricted it down to his? own soft, leftwing approach.‘ Later on, he will conclude more succinctly: ‘Ben Elton calls Mrs Thatcher ‘Thatch‘. I call her a bastard. So he goes on telly and I don‘t.‘
By the same token, nobody asks him to do political benefits, ‘yet I‘m more leftwing than 90% of the comics that purport to be leftwing.‘ The more irritated he gets about it all, the more he says he starts to become ‘a parody of alternative comedy.‘ ‘I‘m beginning to really hate those people who act as if you can change the world with comedy. It doesn‘t happen. So I start saying things I don‘t mean just as a reaction to people like Ben Elton being such goodie-goodies. If I was doing a benefit for Nicaragua. I‘d make jokes about that. I mean people know why you‘re there and that all the money is going to Nicaragua, so I‘d say something like ‘I wish somebody would blow the place up, so we could stop doing benefits.‘ Comedy should know no bounds.‘
Clearly the mass media know differently. Even Jonathan Ross‘ late night chatshow decided on second thoughts that it couldn‘t risk a Sadowitz appearance — and that was after he had agreed to do his act with the sound blocked out. ‘I think they thought I might say something outrageous in interview. But I‘m not like that, ifl agreed beforehand what I wasn‘t allowed to say, I‘d stick to that. Or not do it in the first place. Maybe I'll give them a ring and suggest coming on with a gag and my hands tied behind my back.‘
Ironically it was London that
8 The List 27 Nov — 1() Dec 1987