The class clown’s gone a little serious, with a comedy show that doubles up as a provocation
Where once was gleeful surrealism, now is focus and anger. Hans Teeuwen’s comedy has always been wilfully unpoliticised, providing child-like escapism from the world outside (despite him being not short of opinions off-stage). But on his return to the UK after a six-year break, Teeuwen’s comeback show is clear a departure from this. Aside from some musical bum wiggling at the outset and some absurd sketchlets later on, Real Rancour is slightly surprising: it’s stand-up. Heavily stylised stand-up.
It is also, unusually for him, a show that rubs up against the real world – and not in a frictionless way. Ever the provocateur, Teeuwen appears to want to create discomfort as well as laughter, with routines about, to put it mildly, race and religion.
But while Real Rancour has one foot on the ground, Teeuwen’s instinct to take us into a parallel universe can’t be tethered. When he talks about his mum’s parental techniques, he does so quite soberly, until he warps it into a disturbing fairytale. Similarly his lament about getting an eviscerating review ends up in a pretty twisted place. It seems that’s the direction his mind goes in nowadays.
The platform for all this hyper-reality is an all-important slither of irony, which overlays so much of what he does, and gives him permission to do and say what he likes. The writer of the eviscerating review mentioned above suggested that this irony was just a smokescreen for Teeuwen to express racist and sexist views. Irony certainly does get abused in that way by comedians, but I don’t seriously believe Teeuwen is up onstage being hateful on the sly. My guess is that when he does routines about Judaism and Islam, there is a genuine satirical impulse to undermine organised religion, but also a desire to deliberately provoke and perhaps deliberately offend. That might be an immature impulse, but it’s not a prejudiced one.
Some of it is questionable though, to my mind. If he wants to poke fun at the monolith of Judaism, why fall back on to the lazy old trope of Jews being money-obsessed? The routine is dripping with irony so I don’t think it’s anti-semitic, so much as a man saying anti-semitic things to make a point – but what was the point? Who was the target? Who was he pretending to be? Or was that reviewer right, Teeuwen really is just saying what he thinks? More to the point, why do a routine that leaves you asking such questions? If Teeuwen wanted to do something satirical or iconoclastic, why do it in such a way that distracts from the comedy, making you wonder about him rather than the target of his arrows?
One of the most successful parts of Real Rancour was his piece on Islam, which relies not so much on heightened irony as heavy sarcasm, as he compliments Islam on being easy-going, progressive and having a cracking sense of humour. This is one part of the show where he appears to dispense with the irony and speak his mind, another being a passage where he rails against liberal white people who cannot possibly see any bad in a non-white person. Discerning where the truth lies in Real Rancour is one of its puzzles. On a similar note, he seems to take real joy in portraying a jihadi claiming his 72 virgins, a scene which has a gloriously inappropriate musical-theatre flourish.
In another of Teeuwen’s more finely judged parts, he abstracts the idea of skin colour, in a story about going to India and meeting someone called Punjab Wonderboy whom he starts to worship. Again my sense is this is designed to get liberal tails up just by talking about skin colour at all – even by repeating the words “skin colour”, he knows he’ll be getting a reaction. It segues into brutally insulting French people, which of course we wouldn’t take offence to as they’re one of our lot.
Thrown into the mix are some entertaining bits and bobs that bear the most resemblance to Teeuwen of old. Which is to say, they bear no relation to the outside world or anything else in the show. Frequently he bursts into song, though none of them are especially memorable except perhaps “Terrorist Boy”. The best of his non-political skits is a tale of a tiny bird that he pops in his mouth; others, such as his pretentious writer character who has violent spasms, lacks the old spark of genius. His piano interlude, beautiful though it is, is clearly filler.
Is Real Rancour a little disappointing for a man of Teeuwen’s talents? Yes I think so. But having said that, there’s enough comic menace and food for thought to make it a compelling 80 minutes.
Review by Paul Fleckney