By Stuart Miller . . .
Leo Reich has written a memoir at the tender age of 23, one which he brandishes and reads from early in his solo comedy show, Literally Who Cares?! Later, he whips out another book, this one a novelization of his memoir. And, near the end of his 70-minute set, he takes us through an excerpt of the screenplay adaptation of the novel.
This silly but sharp parody of Gen Z’s reputation for egotistical self-indulgence captures just one side of Reich’s talents. He can also, like Bo Burnham before him, sing. And he does so—songs written by Toby Marlow—confidently and self-indulgently, mocking himself, his generation and also old people (which is essentially all of us in the audience). Reich knows how to work the crowd, though he again plays up his own towering ego, repeatedly cutting audience members off (“We don’t have time!” he shouts at us, even for applauding too much).
There’s breathless societal commentary about how his generation was practically programmed to be selfish and shallow thanks to a world “where social media makes us sell ourselves as if our own personality were a detachable commodity with assignable market value. Vulnerability, authenticity—what can these words even mean when the only language we have left is formed of the hollow stock phrases of corporate individualism.”
There is even some poignant self-reflection, as when he muses about the fact that he did his final somersault at age nine without realizing how he was growing up and stopping to savor those last moments of childhood.
But the heart of the show is Reich’s rapid-fire joke delivery:
- Flaunting his ignorance of anything beyond his image and self-satisfaction, he complains that becoming an adult is a burden because of “the emotional labor of knowing stuff about things.”
- Of a school-age bully who called him a “pathetic gay,” before he had even come out, Reich quips, “So not bully, I guess. More like, kind of a mean oracle.”
- “Sex is really where I come into my own—as an actor,” he says.
These lines may not leap off the page, but Reich’s dynamic presence and impeccable timing means the show is filled with way more hits than misses, even if he relies too frequently on the setup and misdirection punchline like that one about sex.
He is relentless in his jokes about his generation, about sex and sexuality (he dismisses anal sex between straight people as “performative”), and the value in branding himself as a victim and a member of the oppressed: as both a gay man and a Jew. He likens God to a controlling boyfriend and purposely undermines his arguments by pointedly poking fun at his own privilege, with a recurring bit about sponsorship from his father’s “small business” . . . Deutsche Bank (which many New Yorkers will remember had ties to Nazi Germany).
If that paragraph felt exhausting to read, the show sometimes plays that way, and it might feel for older audience members as if Reich would earn bigger laughs if he let a joke or idea sit for a moment. Yet his style feels perfect for the ADHD generation, desperately selling its soul one bit at a time in an eager bid for more likes. You may not have time for a deep belly laugh, as the next joke or three flies by and the volume means you may not be able to remember individual quips when it’s all over. Yet Reich does a better job than many comics of creating a comedy piece that feels like legitimate theater, complete with consistent themes; and you will definitely remember the character he created long after the night is gone.
Leo Reich: Literally Who Cares?! Through March 11 at the Greenwich House Theater (27 Barrow Street at Seventh Avenues). 70 minutes, no intermission. www.leoreich.com
Photos: Daniel Rader