Serf abuse: Jamie Kilstein

This article is from 2009

Serf abuse: Jamie Kilstein

US firebrand comic Jamie Kilstein tells Claire Sawers that although he may have backed Obama, that won’t stop the president getting a verbal kicking

If you haven’t yet, it’s probably time to start getting excited about Jamie Kilstein. For a while, the American has been the comedian that other comedians get excited about: beloved beardie stand-up Daniel Kitson called Kilstein one of 2009’s Edinburgh must-sees; vicious political soapboxer Doug Stanhope invited the maverick New Yorker to open for him ten years ago; and potty-mouthed Brendon Burns hoisted him on his shoulders in 2006, when a late-night Edinburgh show earned the Fringe virgin a standing ovation.

Those who like their comedy passionate, political and delivered like machine gun-fire are in for a treat. Those who want musings on why men and women say weird things to each other may be less smitten.

‘Comedy is a great way to educate people,’ Kilstein tells me over the phone from London, where he’s gearing up for what might just be his breakthrough year. ‘That doesn’t mean I want to come across as preachy; I don’t want to be that self-righteous, wannabe iconoclastic, left-wing asshole,’ he clarifies.

Instead, like his hero Bill Hicks who first got him interested in politics, he believes humour is our first way of defusing serious topics. ‘Once you’re laughing at something, and believe me, it has to be funny or people won’t be listening anyway, then you’re ready to challenge it.’

So, homophobics, racists, anti-abortionists and those on the extreme right god squad should all get ready for a verbal kicking from Kilstein, as he delivers Revenge of the Serfs, an energetic rant that’s part debate team virtuoso, part satirist set on fire. As for the current US administration, Kilstein, who once campaigned for Obama, isn’t giving him ‘a free pass’ until he sees results.

‘It’s like we’ve just come out of an abusive relationship, he shrugs. ‘Our last boyfriend was so fucking crazy, now we’re like, “The new guy doesn’t hit me! Wow! Put a ring on that finger!” Just because Obama doesn’t torture people, that doesn’t make him great. That makes him not awful.’

Having dropped out of high school at 17 to do stand-up (‘That makes it sound like some anti-institution stance,’ he interrupts himself to point out, ‘actually I was a horrible fuck-up, I sucked at school, I was lazy, and mostly high’), Kilstein gigged around America, living in his car. It was only when Paul Provenza, director of profanity-fest The Aristocrats saw him perform that he first brought him to Edinburgh.

‘That totally blew my mind,’ Kilstein recalls. ‘It’s the first time I saw that comedy doesn’t have to just appeal to drunks. The stuff I saw was so evolved, so smart and edgy, it reminded me that comedy can make important issues accessible, and not intimidating. It doesn’t talk down to you, like a news report might. It makes it seem like you can do something about it. For me, that’s totally what comedy should be about.’

Jamie Kilstein, Assembly Rooms, 623 3030, 9–31 Aug (not 17, 24), 9pm, £12–£13 (£11–£12). Previews Aug 6–8, £5.

Jamie Kilstein - Revenge of the Serfs

  • 4 stars

America may have elected the black guy, but we are still screwing over the rest of the world. 'Possibly the most impressive writer-performer I have seen all year' (Kate Copstick, Scotsman).

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