Review – Magnus Betner at Leicester Square Theatre

Buff Swede serves up intense hour of good gags but few surprises

Magnus Betner comedian

Comedy isn’t short of opinionated liberals, and Sweden’s Magnus Betner is something of a bruiser in this crowded field. Aside from being stacked, he’s a comic with material that is frequently dark and graphic, and which is delivered with barely a bat of an eyelid.

In this unflinching hour of comedy at the Leicester Square Theatre, he takes aim at rape law, homophobia, Islamophobia, the war on terror and circumcision among other things, and extracts a good deal of comedy from them. He describes himself as “a feminist who likes porn”, and that’s a useful “in” for Betner – you’ll get a bit of right-on stuff, and some explicit stuff on the side. He has some excellent lines on the ineptitude of a Swedish suicide bomber, and his coming out as bisexual – in fact it would have been interesting to hear more on that subject.

On a few occasions Betner fall into the trap of letting it become more like a lecture on why he’s right, than a comedy show, such as his winning an argument with a punter who accused him of antisemitism, or his sarcastic depiction of how we raise girls by giving them toy stoves and suppressing their ambition.

Another common problem among political/social conscience comedians is that there needs to be an injection of something to stop it becoming a list of opinions. The obvious answer is gags, and Betner isn’t short of those. But it’s a question of style, too: if you look at, say, Bill Hicks and Robin Ince, the former had a demonic magnetism, the latter has an energy to him and is a brilliant orator. What Betner has is brooding intensity, but, at least on the night I attend, this isn’t enough to make the gig catch light.

For me the orthodoxy of Betner’s liberalism undermines his hard-hitting style. He’s billed as a “controversial” comedian, but (perhaps to English ears), the “controversial” bit comes more from the casual brutality of his routines than any especially contentious views he might hold – being anti-war, anti-bigotry and pro-abortion is all fine by me but there are none of the surprises or really thought-provoking routines that make Doug Stanhope for example a far more interesting comedic prospect.

This was the first time I’d seen Betner, and while there were enough laugh-out-loud moments to show he is a class act, I was expecting more.

Review by Paul Fleckney

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