“What race do you hate the most?” Not the standard banter to have with latecomers, but then Tim Renkow‘s not your standard comedian. In comedy lore, you’re not supposed to “punch down” at those worse off than yourself, which for a “crippled, redneck, Mexican Jew” isn’t normally an issue. Renkow, however, sets about making it an issue, flinging punches every which way in a cathartic hour that puts everything up for grabs on the comedy table.
In some respects, this is the antithesis of Nanette. Where Hannah Gadsby’s award-winner preached compassion and sensitive consideration of others’ identity, Renkow runs a nihilistic steamroller through humanity. Its audacity scours your soul clean. There’s nowhere else to go. He does disabled sex, paedophilia, public masturbation, all cleverly contextualised so that the comedy isn’t in the outlandishness. It’s not about shock value. It’s the kind of intelligent humour that has you clapping along with the laugh, a laugh you’re also kind of disgusted with yourself for.
His opening, during which the unsuspecting latecomers arrive, plays on the fact that his own racial identity is hard to place, which renders any racist slurs against him ridiculous. How can you be racist to someone when you can’t work out which race you’re hating? He makes the positive case for stereotypes and follows up by talking savagely but affectionately about his religious mid-Western girlfriend and her fondness for gay men, and his home in the deep South, a place rendered so poor by the Civil War, it found novel ways of eating pigs.
Then there’s an extended anecdote about the types of people you meet on the night bus that just keeps on giving. He mocks the “drunk” and the “homeless guy” for a couple of good, easy laughs, but it builds and builds into a scenario that’s all kinds of wrong in all the right kinds of way for comedy purposes. An unsuspecting tourist has to deal with Renkow messing with his head, and someone praying over him to cleanse him of the devil just adds to the mix.
With Renkow “permitted” in comedy terms to swipe at virtually anybody, he uses that freedom to bring all sorts of taboos back into play, not just for him, but for anyone who can do it with the same wit, self-knowledge and intelligence. For a comedian, it must be liberating; for an audience, it is highly refreshing. You leave feeling purged by a cocktail of highly acidic comedy.