Comedy Oddities: The People Vs Jerry Sadowitz

the people vs jerry sadowitz indexJerry Sadowitz is notoriously protective of his past work and if it ever appears on youtube it tends to last about five hours before a copyright complaint is lodged and the offending video is taken down. All of which is very frustrating as his BBC sketch show The Pall Bearers Review has a lot of merit and much of it still stands up to this day, and his Channel 5 series The People Vs Jerry Sadowitz contains some fairly funny moments, though this episode has less than I thought there might be.

For anyone unaware of Sadowitz’s work, he’s a stand up comedian (and magician) who trades in shock humour, with the general idea being that he’s an absolute nihilist who makes jokes about everyone and anyone, so he can’t be accused of being racist as he simply hates all of humanity, not just one aspect of it. He’s on thin ground with such an argument and when I’ve seen him live he’s done material which has been utterly hilarious but also deeply fucked up, and sometimes he crosses the line in to saying things which are tediously offensive rather than funny. Once when an audience member accused him of being racist he became incredibly angry with them too, claiming it was all ironic and not sincerely meant, but his rage proved that while he can dish it out it certainly didn’t look like he could take it.

Perhaps the nature of his material is why he doesn’t wish for it to be seen online, the official line is that it’s so that other comedians don’t steal his routines, but as this was all but a chat show where he only does a few bits of what look like prepared material it’s a questionable argument. But due to knowing his stance when this briefly appeared on youtube several years ago I downloaded it, and which is why I’m able to review this episode from the series where Jerry visited Oxford, and which was filmed in the University’s famous Oxford Union building.

The format’s a simple one in which Jerry travelled around various towns and cities in the UK and members of the public who lived there were allowed to talk about any subject they so wished, and if interested Jerry might quiz them on it further, but if he thought they were twats he’d buzz them off and his bouncer, the one time dodgy criminal Dave Courtney, would throw them out. The person who Jerry thought was best would then come back at the end of the show, but to win a small amount of money they had to make counter arguments to whatever they’d previously spoken about.

To set the tone Jerry begins the episode pretending to be an Oxford Don, commenting that If anyone has anything in his mouth they need to stop right now, and there’s a pull back and reveal to what looks like a guy giving head to Jerry. It’s not the worst ever joke, but Sadowitz is better than this normally, and the crass attempts at humour continue with him getting a member of the public to spank him with a large stick as he asks them to discuss The Cat In The Hat and reads from it.

At least after this the show reverts to normal with Jerry behind the desk and after he’s briefly introduced Dave Courtney, he invites the first member of the public to the stage. There’s a slight twist though, as Jerry chooses a word from the Oxford English Dictionary supposedly at random and if used the person will be beaten up by Courtney, and given that it’s the word “These” the first person, a guy in a toga going on about how “I cycled here with my meat in hand”, doesn’t last long on stage.

Another word is chosen, “Interesting”, which leads to Jerry using it and being mauled by Courtney, but thankfully after this they drop the idea as it wasn’t amusing and I doubt it ever would have been. The following member of the public to join Jerry is an example of those who thought they could use the series to show off how funny they thought they were, with the guy having his arm in a sling and claiming that whenever he talks to anyone famous he shoots his load, and we see some white liquid squirt all over the place, and it’s only funny because it’s hard to believe anyone thought doing such a thing in front of Sadowitz would go well.

As well as people who thought they’d try to be funny the most common type of individual you’d get on the show would be someone with a very serious point to make, and quite often they were quite angry about it too. Which describes Anthony, who thinks that automobiles are the “most disgusting thing that humanity’s warped mind has come up with”. Dave Courtney tries to be funny here by suggesting “You’ve obviously got a shit car then”, but as with nearly all his interjections it’s pretty weak, but for once Jerry agrees with his guest, though unfortunately it ends with a joke about him wanking on buses which is really tedious, a lazy attempt at shock humour which by Sadowitz’s standards is painfully bland.

The best kind of guest was whenever someone came on who was happy to discuss something in a light hearted manner, which encapsulates the following member of the public, Deborah, who talked about the laziness of observational comedy and how it should be banned for five years. Unfortunately Jerry’s initially a bit shit as he trots out a tedious comment about Linda Smith – “She’s a female comic which is an oxymoron if I ever fucking heard one” – which almost led me to turning the episode off as it’s such a idiotic and quite frankly cunt-ish sentiment. Luckily Deborah had a lot more to say about the subject that was interesting, especially when it came to Eddie Izzard’s approach to observational comedy, which saw a rare moment of sincerity from Sadowitz when he declared Izzard as the country’s best stand up.

The following guest got to utter the words “The most underrated monarch ever Mary 1st!” before Jerry rang her off, and she was replaced with a woman called Helen who wanted to discuss “You and your relationship to the homeless people”, along with the Big Issue and how circulation improved when celebrities wrote for it. Alas Jerry went in to shock comic mode and attempted jokes about charities and how when it came AIDS charities “I gave money in the hope they’d die of AIDS”, and his rant was an uninspired one indeed. At least it improved a little when a mad fella called Jeff suggested that suicide should be taught in schools, and a guy called Gavin complained that the media glamorise certain criminal activities, but before he got to say anymore Courtney rang him off, and an American took to the stage and is told to sod off, because hey, racism used to be funny back then apparently, and that’s that for the first half.

The second half was fortunately far better or I might not have made it through to the end, starting with a very middle class woman called Gloria who was completely naked and there to promote naturism. Jerry made some horrible comments about her appearance because, as you might have gathered by now, if he could go for a lazy offensive joke he always would, but Gloria was more than game and batted his remarks away in a very amusing manner, to the extent that it made me wish that it was her who was hosting the show.

After a brief bit of blandness with a man who wanted to promote matchbox collecting, the next attempt at doing a bit of stand up comedy from a member of a public took place, with Andy doing a routine asking why do birds come back from quarantine, which Jerry listened too, didn’t laugh at, and then said “Care in the community punters, we love them”. Following this was a man who called America a vile, corrupt, stinking cesspool and mocked their cultural dumbing down, he received an approved sticker from Jerry but was then told “You’ve made your point, fuck off”. Which was vaguely amusing? Um, I guess so. Maybe.

The final two members of the public to join Jerry were Samuel, who rambled on and on and on about religion, only for Jerry to finally ask him to start again at the beginning, which was his best joke of the episode, while a man called Jon just wanted to meet Jerry, as he claimed that he was responsible for the funniest thing he’d ever seen when Jerry took to the stage at the Montreal Comedy Festival and opened with the line “Hello Moosefuckers”. This led to a pretty decent conversation as it goes, with Jerry explaining why he did such a thing, and it ended on a surprisingly sincere moment with Sadowitz commenting “I’m not very good at taking compliments but thanks very much Jon”.

The final part of the show saw Sadowitz declare nudist Gloria as the most interesting person of the night, and so she returned and won £350 after arguing that people should wear clothes, it’s a fun segment and even though Sadowitz can’t resist insulting her once more, she clearly doesn’t care and so it was fairly enjoyable material. And that’s that, the credits role, with the show never to be seen again. Well, unless you were around during the couple of hours it turned up online.

I wish I could compare this to other episodes, to see if it was Sadowitz just having a poor day or if he was always this lazily offensive, though having seen him perform live it’s probably a mixture of the two. I imagine seeing the show recorded live would be quite different too, and that Channel 5’s lawyers wouldn’t allow him to get away with certain comments, I’m all but certain that it’s a series which needed a fair amount of editing before it could hit our screens.

Yet despite all of my criticisms it is a show I wish was still being made, if only because it’s interesting to see people talk about subjects they found fascinating, or attempt to be funny and even at times succeed. Of course it doesn’t need someone like Sadowitz to host it, and probably would be even better if he didn’t, so maybe one day a format akin to this be made, and I know if any channel made something like The People Vs Greg Davies or The People Vs Bridget Christie I’d watch every second of it.


Alex Finch.
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  1. Oddly enough I watched that episode for the first time recently, and I’m pretty sure that Deborah is Deborah Frances-White of The Guilty Feminist.


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