Thursday 4th August 2022 at the Poodle Club, London.
Reviewer: Emma Dorfman
Harmon Leon has the beginnings of a bold, comic-theatrical experiment in The Jokes Saved My Soul. The work is a hybrid of genres (stand-up comedy, multimedia performance art, and musical theatre, to name a few). Through these devices, Leon attempts to convey the show’s overarching message: ‘the jokes’ got him through good times and bad. The piece shows great potential for an innovative structure with a pointed, compelling message. In its present stage, however, Leon skirts around performative elements, not quite fully investing in them or the precise journey he wants to take the audience on.
The Jokes Saved My Soul begins where we all wish we weren’t: The Pandemic. ‘Onstage Harmon’ laments the absence of ‘the jokes’ amid lockdown. This is the beginning of a series of loosely connected jokes with darkly comedic punchlines through the lens of his personal narrative, which attempts to move between ‘Onstage Harmon’ and ‘Offstage Harmon’.
His lockdown experience is relatable to anyone in the many industries that suffered, but is it too metatheatrical for its own good? Like a magician telling you how they did their last trick, there may be something slightly disconcerting about talking about how to do stand-up whilst doing stand-up. There’s also something equally unnerving about talking about a pandemic whilst recovering from one. Today, I personally prefer to use live comedy, theatre, etc. as an outlet for thinking about anything besides a global crisis—to re-experience live storytelling, or something beyond our own experience that informs our personal futures.
In ‘Act 3’, ‘the jokes’ find their footing through a series of interesting, unbelievable, and surprisingly relatable anecdotes. These are stories we can fully invest ourselves in—stories like the time Harmon worked with OJ Simpson, or when his dad would ring a cowbell at the most embarrassing times. These bits work best perhaps because they are incredibly specific and personal to Leon, which is precisely the show that he promised us. Through these kinds of narratives, The Jokes Saved My Soul has boundless potential, and many more possibilities are up for offer in the realm of media and song that are connected to a bigger, urgent message.
The Jokes Saved My Soul plays future dates in London and at the 2022 Edinburgh Festival Fringe – you can find further information and tickets here.