Ari Shaffir: Heretic (Melbourne Comedy Festival)

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The Comic’s Lounge in North Melbourne feels like the beer barn of comedy venues in this festival. It brings a chunk of Frankston’s infamous Pier Hotel into the inner city, while conjuring up some memories of the long gone Last Laugh in Collingwood. It’s big, and quite full considering it’s a cool Tuesday evening. It’s an atmosphere that suits tonight’s act – Ari Shaffir.

I guess the crowd here has come along because they may have seen some of the American’s work on Netflix. Shaffir has had two specials and another show recently played. Tonight’s show is a bit of a distillation of that work and others, bundled into a rambling set of stories focused on his early religious life and his subsequent awakening into atheism.

He lives in a gap between stoner humour and traditional Jewish stand up.

He’s sort of a stoner Michael Shermer, constantly pointing out the stupidity and lies of Judaism in very funny ways. He’s offensive at times but the offence is not bitter, it’s the disgruntlement of someone who’s been fooled before and won’t be again, pulling on a mask to cover his disappointment.

Above all else, he’s funny. Damn funny.

Shaffir’s style carefully walks the lines between arrogance and confidence, stupid and smart, offensive and tolerant. He is relaxed on stage, listening for heckles, dismissing the stupid with a flick, taking on any that have something to say. He seems a little tired, but that could just be affected too, the seeming distraction offset by razor sharp retorts when required. He lives in a gap between stoner humour and traditional Jewish stand up.

There are constant laughs and many squirms. He says a lot of stuff that usually wouldn’t squeak past most people’s self-censorship these days. I mean, Holocaust jokes are too near the edge for most people but he gets away with it somehow. There’s some pretty gross out material on menstruation too. But it’s plain he doesn’t believe this stuff, it’s just for effect.

In the end his is a sort of fake outrage. It’s schtick and he knows it and we know it too. While that undermines what he does to some extent, it’s also plain that this is all in the service of laughs. There is some sort of anti-organised-religion message in there but he’s not preaching. It’s more “this is crap, we all know it, what can you do but laugh?” You just gotta laugh, so we did.

Ari Shaffir plays the Comics Lounge until April 21

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