It’s tempting just to sit and impotently wave a fist at Jordan Brookes rather than try and convey coherently just what an experience his live show is. Many, many performers draw on their personal lives to mould their art. Brookes takes this foundation and deconstructs the trope in such a way that trying to get a handle on it is like attempting to catch an eel; it’s slippery, elusive and liable to shock you when you think you have it writhing in your grasp.
He begins by stating that his relationship broke up because, compulsive comedian he is, he refused to remove a joke from his show that she felt reflected badly on her (careful Jordan, you can get sued for that kind of thing these days!). He plays with the idea of the stubborn artist refusing to self-censor, portraying himself as a grotesque, shambling junkie desperate for that sweet laughter fix. Then it gets very strange indeed.
Bleed is very much a show to go into almost blind. Whatever expectations you may have, leave them behind and embrace the only guarantee on offer, that it is not going to go how you think. Brookes is great at selling the illusion of randomness, and that he’s thinking on his feet the whole time. He is a master manipulator, and all the while he’s subtly making the audience dance to his tune, like the rats through Hamelin. We’re even left unsure if one moment of inspired audience interaction isn’t, in fact, part of the show.
It’s a whiplash ride that invites both admiration and resentment. There are many loving being caught up in this strange world, but there are also several expressions of bewilderment, and a few of outright hostility. Brookes almost abandons standup entirely in favour of mad theatricality, full of the physical contortions and mercurial outbursts that have made his name and you can either be swept along, or shut down entirely. It’s difficult to tell if Bleed is a savage dissection of the artistic ego and the performers need to be the perpetual eye of their own storm, or if taking this task on is itself a wanton display of ego and self-regard writ large.
“I’m the riskiest comedian in the biz,” he howls over and over, until the phrase (a piece of press he received last year) collapses in on itself in a heap of smashed syllables. As you’re left wondering how you ended up here, after a deliberately unassuming beginning, it’s kind of difficult to disagree with that assessment.