Red tights and a little scarf . . .
Anglo-Spanish comedian Jen Brister’s Edinburgh show in 2011 (British-ish) is still one of the funniest evenings I’ve been to in a long time. So it was with high hopes that I made my way to the Soho Theatre with a group of girlfriends to catch her 2012 offering. I wouldn’t say that I was disappointed by Now and Then – Brister is talented and full of energy and we all enjoyed her show – but it didn’t have that extra something that I felt British-ish did.
The theme of the evening was Brister’s fear of getting old/growing up, but it was also about self-esteem and self-confidence, as illustrated by the opening story of 6-year-old Brister wearing her favourite pair of red tights to school and receiving a severe dressing down from a teacher. Stories of Brister’s childhood and her relationships with her family, friends and girlfriend provide the backbone of much of her comedy. Brister reminisces about how difficult it was growing up with a Spanish mother in South London – she would serve the family Galician fish stew instead of Findus crispy pancakes – and the perils of having three brothers (meaning she could never walk into a room unannounced for fear of disturbing them in an intimate relationship with a towel).
Brister is a gifted impressionist, and her take on her mother is always the highlight of any of her shows. Her mother calls her ‘Yennifer’ and imparts ‘advices’ (always plural, never singular) on facial hair removal and the wearing of ‘a little scarf’ in the manner of Clare Balding. Other highlights of the evening were stories about an incident with a kilo of ham at an Australian market and how unsexy a camping holiday actually is. Rare misses were the tale of her first drug-taking experience and the closing sketch in which she imagines herself appearing on Woman’s Hour and accepting the Nobel Peace Prize – two scenarios which didn’t fit with the rest of the material.
Once or twice the material felt over-rehearsed and less natural (perhaps because it’s been a few months since the Edinburgh Festival), and almost veered too far into ‘comedy-as-therapy’ territory, but Brister ensured that the theme of the evening remained in our minds throughout, and we were treated to a whistle-stop tour of her life so far, in all its hilariously excruciating moments. Brister has an ability to maintain a swift pace throughout, and the hour passed quickly. It was great to see so many men at a lesbian comedian’s gig, and to hear them laughing loudest – Brister weaves her sexuality into her shows seamlessly.
I’ll definitely be going to Brister’s next gig, hoping for lots of impressions of Brister’s Spanish mother and her ‘advices’ . . .