Jazz Emu is an incessantly clever one-man funk-comedy/Youtube show that insists on the genius of its maker. But why ‘Jazz’? 

Credit: Reiff Gaskell

The character creation of Archie Henderson is a virtuosic multi-instrumentalist who builds an atmosphere with layers of synth, bass, and electric sax — and there’s something of the avant-garde in there too, pushing the boundaries of a medium and occupying a halfspace between gig and comedy, live, and recorded. For those familiar with the work of this lockdown YouTube sensation, Jazz Emu: You Shouldn’t Have might not disappoint — there’s an abundance of his videos ranging from the awkward, fragile deadpan of ‘How to Socialise’ to the linguistic excesses of ‘Dear English Language’ — and for those, like me, coming into contact with his work for the first time, his poppy, robotic narcissism might present a refreshingly absurd and technically astonishing addition to the list of online content micro-celebrities that has exploded in the last three years. But despite having polished an upbeat quirky-comedy-song format and integrating this in a wildly skillful live production, the exuberant confidence and musical talent of this unapologetic performer comes off as a little at odds with its subject matter, and therefore feels about little more than his own ego.

The Soho Theatre is no stranger to narcissistic characters — it’s almost a requirement for the level of oversharing and perspective most comedians need in order to construct a set. But what an audience needs is a character beneath the constructed facade in order to get inside their skin. If the character is a shell, what does it tell us about the person it conceals? With Jazz Emu, this quality elided me. He’s an other-worldly megalomaniac who sees the world for all its absurdity and ultimately only wants to be liked. If this was really being explored, then I could get behind it. But the level of solo virtuosity on display trumps the narrative, and it feels like it’s trying to cram in too many disconnected pieces of media from outside the show. There’s nothing vulnerable or soft here, no invitation to engage with a version of humanity, simply an assertion: this is how talented I am; laugh. It’s like if Beau Burnham did a standup routine version of Inside, minus the self-deprecating exploration of his own poor mental health that makes his particular version of self-obsessed accessible. The result is a frustratingly surface level story, unidimensional character, and somewhat uncomfortable encounter with an overtly front-footed personality — with a very funky beat.

It’s musically and technically very impressive, the videography is incredibly well-produced and the performance has a kind of consistency that speaks to a detailed creative brain. I just wanted him to try less hard and open up more. Storytelling in theatre has certain simple principles, and if these foundations are ignored the result can be cold and alienating, undermining much of the talent and skill which lies upon its surface. The show is about him trying to prove that he’s not a sociopath, and it does come across that he’s struggling to make a deeper human contact. This is an incredibly interesting place from which to shape a story, but it never quite manages to take off. The scenes with the goblin were interesting — certainly well acted despite being through a mask. I felt here that there was room for something more collaborative, something more open-hearted — ironically for a show in which the performer is holding a heart. If Jazz could get out of his own head and work in more emotional truth, more substance and more connection to his audience, it might reach for something more akin to what he boldly claims as his namesake. As it stands, there’s something quite un-jazz about this Emu.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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