Review – Greg Proops at the Udderbelly
Sarah Sharp finds Greg Proops spoiling for a fight with the Udderbelly audience. So does he win? Does anyone win?
Allow me to issue a warning: never sit on the front row at a Greg Proops gig. In particular, don’t sit there and text. Woe betide the man that giveth not this verbose font his undivided attention. Sparks flew. Spit too. Money was taken in triumph then sheepishly returned. More riveting than a Jeremy Kyle bollocking, that’s all I’m gonna say.
Proops is a man of considerable lexical dexterity. He’s also – as he likes to remind us often – possessed of a massive ego. His relationship with his audience is a something of a sneer. He rates our joke-appreciation ability as we go along; he claims he doesn’t need us there ("you think I care whether you laugh or not? My ego’s huge! I’d be here even if the tent was empty".) He likes to bundle stuff up in verbal code then decipher it for you. "It osculates man bags," he says – about what exactly, I forget. We pause in silence. An obligatory titter comes from somewhere. He explains: "By which I mean ... it sucks balls." Lord knows I love a good dictionary, but this was a bit like being beaten with one.
Despite this, it’s a very enjoyable show. In a comedic world where all too often blunt crudeness passes for wit, and volume for vocabulary, it is refreshing to hear some really snazzy word-sets delivered with panache. It sounded too scripted at first, but a few mishaps and interruptions got him into full flow. The football scores being roared outside; the phones being checked by the stage – he ripped into them all with zeal, proving beyond doubt that he’s got a prodigious gift of the ad-lib gab.
His clever wordplay was balanced with vulgar mimes (mankind’s first wank; a lady being shafted from behind by an elder gentleman on Viagra), and his simplest summaries often work best – the Royal Wedding was "the skinny girl and the balding guy", and breeding in LA was solely done between "silverbacks and cougars".
However, impressive though his verbal dexterity is, he runs the risk of providing more style than substance. You’re so busy with the verbal particulars, it’s a job in itself keeping up with what he's saying. I almost felt like I should get a cut of the profits, I was that knackered by the end.
And here we come to the crux of the issue. The problem with Proops is that he insistently claims he doesn’t need his audience, but I think he does more than any comedian I’ve ever seen. He doesn’t necessarily need their support, their praise, or even their laughter: but he thrives off the spattered chuckles, the pause that lasts a millisecond too long, the disdain, the disenchantment. It’s like he’s constantly spoiling for a fight. His comedy is a battle, and he’s winning. This was never so apparent as when he essentially kicked two people out: and continued to verbally eviscerate them long after they’d gone.
He may get off on all this, but for us, it takes its toll. It’s bloody draining to sit there for over an hour and be mercilessly berated, even five rows back. Proops no doubt would urge us then to protest more, to fight back – but an audience is an audience, not an enemy. They can be little fuckers, sure – but if you deride them from the start then you’re setting the precedent for the evening.
This was a whirlwind performance and at times I was helpless with laughter. But he’s exhausting to listen to – and at times his scathing wit is a bit too much. See him if you can, but in small doses.
Review written by Sarah Sharp