Scott Capurro glances your way and the killer put-down is ready, waiting, brutal. He moves with the precision and speed of a heat-seeking missile, showing us back to ourselves, pointing out our hypocrisies and inconstancies. There is a masochistic thrill to be had at a Capurro gig: “pick me – rip me to shreds.” Oh, he will. He’s seamless too: there’s no felt division between his crowd-work and his set. Seeing Scott Capurro feels like being swept along in conversation by someone braver, funnier, smarter, more irreverent – and yes, for sure, meaner – than most folk have the capacity to be. His pacing, his delivery, his gag rate: all are impressive.
It’s nearly a quarter of a century since Capurro won the Perrier Award for best newcomer at the Fringe. Downstairs at Boteco is a far cry from the packed out Pleasance gigs of yore, but there’s something brilliant (for the punters, at least) about seeing a big name comic down in Boteco’s bargain basement, like being let in on a Fringe secret.
The Trouble With Scott Capurro, and his show, The Trouble With Scott Capurro, is that times may have changed, but his whole shtick just hasn’t. Capurro’s formula is to needle away at our collective sensibilities. If something’s taboo, well, not to him. The conventional wisdom has long been that in live comedy nothing is sacred: you can joke about anything, as long as it gets a laugh. Which he does, because his timing is great, his jokes are brilliantly constructed, and because there’s undeniably something cathartic in laughing at the very things you shouldn’t.
What with zero platforming, “safe spaces” and some inclusivity policies now so didactic they bring Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergenon to mind, do we need comics like Capurro more than ever? Perhaps. Capurro is famous for “going there”. His “shock” lines frequently relate to the idea that he fancies kids, sometimes to the idea that he was abused as a child – and loved it, or wasn’t, and felt under-appreciated. Parents don’t get him, he says. “Can I hold him?” he asks of their child. “Well… he’s eight?” they reply.
This milder example of his frequent riffing on child abuse, is typical of what Scott Capurro has done now for what seems like forever, and it is kind of amazing that he hasn’t sickened himself of it. His act requires that we work in faith, on the understanding that “he doesn’t mean it.” Post Saville and Yewtree, post #metoo, post-Louis C.K. turning out to be exactly the creep he presented as, people are, understandably, more hesitant to go along with this stuff. Capurro wrote about Saville, too, after his death, in the wake of the allegations: “why is Savile being crucified for most men’s slightly groping, misplaced, but ultimately harmless affections?”
Doggedly determined to show that nothing is unsayable, even if it – surely – means he can’t get telly gigs, that no-one will sit in his front row, and that he’s famous for audience walk-outs, many are drawn to Scott, thinking “non-PC” is a byword for right-leaning. Nope. A leave-voting couple, the female half of whom outed herself as Boris fan within minutes, become the focus of a more sustained humiliation campaign than anyone else. Capurro does some contemporary political stuff and it’s well-observed, but the rest of his routine rests on the premise that he doesn’t mean a word he says, which dilutes the impact of what otherwise was some quite brilliant, and original, material.
His jokes aren’t especially hard to make. What is hard is to shock an audience when they know exactly what’s coming. Capurro manages, and there’s a certain illicit euphoria in it, but what, if he stopped being “challenging” and started challenging himself, could he be?