With an intense stare, Jen Brister describes her set as ‘a beige lesbian in a darkened room.’ ‘There won’t be any thinking’, she adds, in a similarly combative tone, ‘this show is entirely about me’. Her aggressive and forthright style didn’t put me at my ease, but she’s undoubtedly a talent.
Brister’s latter comment about her show is only half right. Her set is definitely very thought provoking, but it really is almost entirely about herself. Much of this relentlessly autobiographical humour made me laugh; the re-enacted conversations with her heavily accented Spanish mother were, I thought, the show’s highlights. However, this egotism grates after a while.
The catalyst for the show, Brister tells us, was turning thirty-seven and the feelings of anxiety and inadequacy it provoked. Brister does a lot of complaining about the aging process. Her gags revolving around her fixation with the inability of her now thirty seven year old body to produce enough moisture are funny at first. However, like her extended grumble about growing up in a house adolescent brothers, the rants aren’t funny enough to justify their sheer length.
The moments when Brister departs from the topic of herself are truly refreshing. Brister’s remark that her show doesn’t deal with the big issues is brilliantly disproved in her material about Catholicism. It is both excitingly fiery - ‘Catholics don’t like people’ - and thoughtful; she explains with eloquence that she has problems not with religion itself, but with an institution that tells you who you can and can’t fall in love with. More material like this would have made the show both more balanced and wittier. It’s worth noting that Brister’s favourite joke in her set - a well crafted gag about the differences between radio 1 and 4 - isn’t a self-referential one. She too is aware, it seems, that complaints about her life aren’t necessarily the best way to fill a set.
Brister’s attitude towards the audience meant that I never quite relaxed - I found her frequent comment, ‘I know some of you are looking at me thinking…’, both unnecessarily hostile and alienating. However, Brister, who really throws herself into her comedy, is an impressive comedian nevertheless. She’s got a lot not to complain about.