Review: Jamie Kilstein, Soho Theatre

Jamie Kilstein

It can't be easy being a political comedian in America these days. No sooner do you open your mouth than the critics are measuring you against Bill Hicks. Jamie Kilstein must be getting used to this by now, but it must also get a little wearing. Apart from a passionate contempt for the conservative right and a wicked grin that creeps across the lower half of his cherubic face every now and again there is not much resemblance to Hicks. The 30-year-old vegan atheist is very much a comedian of the modern age – when not performing onstage he broadcasts on the internet radio channel Citizen Radio with his wife Allison Kilkenny. You can read a revealing Scotsman interview with Kilstein in which he talks, among other things, about the Hicks influence, here.

This review below is a version of my review of his Soho Theatre run that appeared in the Evening Standard. You can read the original review here. It was his first night and he admitted to being jetlagged, but that didn't stop him from doing nearly ninety minutes instead of the scheduled hour. To be perfectly honest I was a little irritated by this. Not by the length but by the fact that he started to wrap up after sixty minutes but then said he'd just do two more stories. Fifteen minutes later he thanked the audience again...and then said he would do two more stories. I don't mind long shows at all, I just like to know they are going to be long shows in advance. Kilstein's thoughtful sets demand your concentration and because I expected the gig to be shorter I was mentally winding down after an hour. But, hey, that's my problem. Most of the crowd seemed delighted by this value-for-money bonus.

 

America’s Jamie Kilstein looks like a geeky comedian from central casting, all glasses, T-shirt and tight trousers. You think you are going to hear offbeat yarns about relationships and pets. Think again. What you get is politically engaged humour, with a lonely cat anecdote mid-performance sticking out like a kitten in the Grand National.

Kilstein certainly does not settle for simple topics. How many comedians would open with a routine dissecting homophobia and follow it with a story about how they incurred violent threats after mentioning rape on television? The delivery is passionate, fast-paced and, when he uses notes for absolute precision, almost poetic.

This is largely comedy that makes you think rather than split your seams but there are belly laughs too. A particular highlight is his tale of sharing a Denver hotel with a cowboy convention. Kilstein paints such a vivid picture of the culture clash that one can almost smell the prejudice and stetsons.

Another smart riff on a well-thumbed subject recalls how his peers are replacing their social media pictures with shots of their new offspring. It now looks as if Kilstein has befriended umpteen babies, which can be awkward when acquaintances see his Facebook page. Elsewhere he has little time for agnostics: “Pick a side and start to lose friends like the rest of us.”

Some US references need clarifying but his nation-transcending story about adopting a moggy that turns out to be chubbier than expected shows that there is heart alongside the establishment-bashing rage. Kilstein might hate America’s fat cats but he clearly loves the plump pussy who lives with him.

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