This woman who caused such conservative consternation as the featured entertainer at the 2018 White House Correspondents’ Dinner soon reveals the wolf behind that big smile.
Like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, she seems like an ordinary young American woman, with curly red hair, blue jeans and some cool high-top trainers. Michelle Wolf grew up in Hershey, Pennsylvania, of iconic American chocolate bar fame, and as she reveals early on in her stand-up show, used to work at Wall Street giants Bear Stearns and JP Morgan Chase.
This woman who caused such conservative consternation as the featured entertainer at the 2018 White House Correspondents’ Dinner soon reveals the wolf behind that big smile, however. Her hour on the stage is a fearless takedown of modern America: how quick people are to be angry at others, so they can feel better about themselves; the sad state of race relations; and a subject she knows and loves, gender inequality.
Wolf digs her claws in, not only in the sense that she tells it like it is, but also in that she scratches well below the surface. Several insightful jokes reveal how white privilege doesn’t only apply to men, as she sends up white women’s indifference. In this show without a theme, the modern female experience is the dominant source of humour: the joys of dealing with various bodily fluids; the way women sabotage each other; her own experience of abortion – one of a handful of moments when Wolf somehow draws humour from an unlikely subject, urging the audience to loosen up and just go with it.
The audience undoubtedly enjoyed the show, but there was a sense that they rarely did just go with it. Some jokes were a little squirm-inducing (especially for men, I expect). At least some in the audience were probably hanging on for the political satire that never came (President Trump and his administration were only briefly alluded to). And this show is clearly written for an American audience, so occasionally may have been slightly lost in translation.
Wolf opened with a reference to us loving breakfast, which seemed to be some cute local pandering, but went nowhere – indicative of a little laziness in bringing a stand-up show to the other side of the world without thinking that it would benefit from some tweaking for local consumption. For example, mention of a woman getting bangs raised some laughs, but probably only because it was interpreted as getting banged, not getting a fringe. Audiences can ride little bumps in the road like that, but when an international comedian uses ‘we’ and ‘us’ as if she’s back home they may not just go with it. Even after assurances that the racial gags are about America, and that we had to face our own demons later.
There’s plenty to chuckle at without squirming, misunderstanding or mild alienation though, such as contrasting the difficulty of human childbirth with that of giraffes: ‘the bitch doesn’t even bend her knees!’ shrieks Wolf, as she describes the ease with which a mama giraffe pops out a kid. It’s a long way from taking down the White House, but animal comedy is something we can all get into – just brace yourself for the joke about otters and baby seals though.
Rating: 3 ½ stars ★★★☆
Melbourne International Comedy Festival
29-31 March 2019
Max Watt’s, Melbourne
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