There’s lots about Under Privilege that I reckon really shouldn’t work. For a start, a solid third of it is material about the difficulties of being a parent. In the year of our Lord, 2019, that’s the sort of overplayed stock topic for stand-up that ought to be immediately fired from the nearest howitzer into the big graveyard of no longer funny subjects. Parenting material is the “complaining about flying” of the 21st century – that is, no longer funny even if you do it ironically. Jen Brister, though, makes it some of the funniest stuff I’ve seen at the Fringe so far.
Another thing that really oughtn’t work, is the other two thirds of the set.
It’s not that the subject matter isn’t important. Privilege, particularly white, male, straight privilege, is the primary focal point of the rest of the show. This is clearly a worthy discussion and if you’re the sort of person who doesn’t think it’s a worthy discussion by the way, then this show is absolutely not for you. Brister herself is acutely aware of this and does address it: at the Edinburgh Fringe, she couldn’t possibly be shouting into an echo chamber more.
Anyway, worthy discussion or not, is it a good topic for an hour of comedy? In theory, no. In theory, the very idea of 60 of our preciously finite minutes of life being spent on comedy about privilege makes my hair fall out in clumps. The mind recoils, conjuring visions of some well-meaning but self-absorbed caricature soapboxing for an entire 1/24th of your day, desperately trying to disguise their Very Important Opinions as jokes. Again, Jen Brister proves me wrong.
The thing is that all Brister’s material is unique, genuinely insightful, and delivered in the most animated fashion imaginable. I don’t say animated lightly. Brister is like a cartoon person, unbelievably gifted (and practised) in using body language, facial expression, gesticulation, and the timbre of her voice to make almost everything that comes out of her mouth to be utterly side-splitting. It’s not just that her delivery is honed to perfection, it’s also supremely inventive, using every technique possible to maintain a comic momentum that makes this hour of comedy feel like 20 minutes.
Now, I’m only 50% straight and desperately working class and because I generally come across as full-bodied, genuine hetero, it’s only the latter part that’s ever really caused me any problems in life. In other words, I’m someone who’s privilege bingo card looks a bit like a treasure map where the spot is the only bit that isn’t an x; that is to say, I’m precisely the sort of person much of Brister’s ire is aimed at; and it’s amazing how fun it is to have her call people like you a piece of shit for an entire hour. It’s not that there isn’t filler. Every show has filler but like all the best comedy, Jen Brister ensures that the filler is delivered pitch-perfectly. In her case, also volume-perfectly. I’ve rarely seen a comic who makes screaming a punchline quite as funny as this.
I think what really makes it work, though, is her self-awareness. Brister is acutely conscious that this is a comedy show first and a lecture second but, incredibly, never lets that fact get in the way of making a legitimately insightful point. By the same token, those insightful points are always very very funny. I’m aware this review is practically salivating at this point, so I’m going to wrap it up, but Under Privilege is truly one of those shows that has it all. It’s smart, incisive, fun, and absolutely hilarious from minute one to minute 60. Please do not miss it.