Iliza Shlesinger, Eventim Apollo, review: an energetic but unoriginal hour of fan fodder
The internet has been good to Iliza Shlesinger. Her first break came through a competition run by Myspace in 2007. When Netflix began commissioning comedy, this ballsy, charismatic, occasionally crass US comic was one of its first stars. Its support has brought her international fame, via five stand-up specials, her own sketch series and a self-penned romcom, Good on Paper.
As Douglas Adams observed about technology, anything invented in your twenties is wonderful and you can probably get a career in it; anything that takes off after you turn 35 is the work of the devil. And so Shlesinger, now 38, spends much of her new stand-up show – too much, in fact – making fun of TikTok.
The video-sharing platform has become “its own pandemic”, she says. Her main gripe is that there’s “very little innovation” on it. This is, unfortunately, also the problem with her observational stand-up. Her best observations arrive at something fresh through microscopic detail – zooming in on the chipped paint on one particular hook of a three-hook bra, for instance. But the broader picture is far from original, hinging on broad, over-familiar generalisations about men and women.
It undermines one section about being fed up with interviewers “making it all about gender”, when the topic is her bread and butter. In Shlesinger’s world, men are awful at emotions, and married women never want sex. To cap off a routine about how human babies (unlike most newborn animals) are dependent on their parents, she quips: “A baby doesn’t know what’s going on until a woman marries him.”
She’s sharper, albeit sourer, on the topic of internalised misogyny, suggesting that women are constantly comparing themselves to all other women in the vicinity through what she calls “girl sonar”. “You have high self esteem – it just takes standing next to an ugly girl.”
All this is elevated by her brief flashes of adept physical comedy; when Shlesinger imitates a tottering newborn giraffe covered in “girafterbirth”, or demonstrates how a woman taking off a bra looks like Mick Jagger dancing, it’s impossible not to crack a smile. (That nimble performance is all the more impressive, given that Shlesinger is currently several months pregnant.)
Despite that high-energy delivery, for this critic it made for a long hour. But it was rapturously received at the Apollo, where Shlesinger – in town for two nights on a world tour – was greeted by part of the crowd with a standing ovation the second she appeared. At times, the warmth of the fan response actually worked against the hour’s pacing, with a string of unchallengeable pronouncements – eg men should not send women abusive messages online – each followed by a long round of approving applause.
Though the show is partly an argument against measuring women against other women, I found myself guiltily comparing these routines to funnier, more distinctive takes on similar subject matter that I’ve seen from other female comics. Shlesinger is a polished, confident act, and her new show will no doubt satisfy her legion of existing fans, but I was left longing for Bridget Christie’s eye-rolling incredulity, Sara Barron’s acidic cynicism, Hannah Gadsby’s embattled anger or London Hughes’s joyful filth.
Iliza Shlesinger is at the Evenim Apollo, London, tonight, and touring: iliza.com