I’ve been mulling over more scholarly words to describe Neal Portenza and his show, but I honestly cannot fight the urge to call it batshit. Utter batshit, but as an art form. Portenza is one of the best surreal comedians I’ve seen in a long time, unrivalled in his realm for such a bizarre and self-derailing and smoothly put-together hour of absurdist humour.
Utter batshit, but as an art form
From the off, Portenza creates an atmosphere of carefully arranged chaos. With a structure involving helium balloons, squeaky toys and Pokemon you can bet it’s not going to be an hour of ordinary stand up. Portenza himself is an erratic stage presence, completely unpredictable: nobody’s quite sure if their brief interaction will land them with a large responsibility or fifteen seconds on stage.
Portenza’s sense of structure is certainly present, no matter how much he roams and plays with each set piece. Cryptically titled segments like “Pokemon GO!” and “Sucked In” are displayed on the back, sprawled across the balloons. If the segment goes well, the balloon floats. If it fails, it pops. Portenza only pops one balloon, and that’s to the sound of the audience protesting. No matter how much you try to unwrap the meaning of each balloon, Portenza delivers his material with alarming misdirection so it’s absolutely impossible to predict what comes next.
The whole show defies description: whilst it’s easy enough to list Portenza’s jokes, the show is as worthy of recommendation for its atmosphere as for its material. There are some moments of audience involvement which invoke extremely familiar film references, but the enjoyment isn’t necessarily negated by its lack of originality here. There are of course plenty of novel moments in the set as well: some segments of the performance definitely happen to the audience, and they’re absolutely stupendous. Feel bold and go along, the ticket price is so worth a beautifully batshit hour in Portenza’s company.