Comedy:Democratic party reptile

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The Independent Culture
"SEVEN years in college, 20 years on the road and I'm doing jaunty turtle faces to 30 people in an attic on a Tuesday in Hammersmith . . . I've really clawed my way to the middle." The fine American satirist Will Durst starts his extended run at t he Riverside Studios in a mood that is far from self-congratulatory. Things could be worse for Durst - a compact, besuited man with the devil-may-care insouciance of a renegade news anchorman - he might not be funny. Worse still, he might be P J O'Rourke .

Like O'Rourke, Durst is an urbane guerrilla with a keen eye for the ridiculous. Unlike O'Rourke, Durst - "If you're not confused, you're not paying attention" - prefers to undermine people's prejudices rather than confirm them. That's probably why he's performing in an attic. But why should Republicans have all the best jokes? Durst's brand of rough-house liberalism is just as rich in comic possibilities as its more fashionable conservative equivalent: "Why shouldn't they teach masturbation in schools -they teach logarithms, and which have you used more recently?"

His relentless self-deprecation - "some of this stuff doesn't translate, the rest just isn't funny" - is entirely misplaced. The only laboured thing about Durst's show, Myth America, is the title, whose comic resonance is hard work for anyone without a lisp. Durst stands in front of a map, pointing out places of interest as he goes along, and, like Alistair Cooke playing it for laughs, he conveys all the fascination of American culture with none of the pain of travel.

Durst hails from Milwaukee, Wisconsin - "Where beer is one of the four major food groups"

- but now makes his living poking fun at the foibles of the American political process. He has a talent to abuse, and is at his happiest when sharpening his wits on US politicians, old and new. "All American presidents are figureheads," Durst asserts. "Reagan was a hood ornament." Ross Perot ("an attack schnauzer after a coffee enema") brings the best out of Durst to such an extent that you almost wish he'd run again. But whatever, or whoever, the subject, he speaks almost entirely in aphorisms. Lackingsome of the charisma of Denis Leary or the late Bill Hicks, both of whose withering scornhe sometimes echoes - "Mobile telephones cause cancer? Oh, bite me" - Durst is forced to use his brain more. And whether in angst mode or prank mode - "How would you disrupt a Texas wedding: force the bridesmaids to wear attractive dresses?" - who Durst wins.

Continues at Riverside Studios, W6, 081-741 2255, to 11 Feb.