John Safran was born into controversy. Whether it’s attending far right radical rallies, calling out Facebook trolls, or confronting A Current Affair’s Ray Martin, Safran is never far from embroiling himself in the thick of things. His new fringe show “John Safran - Jew Detective” is billed as a push back against those who say that in this time of fringe politics and “creeping fascism” jokers should not be tolerated.
Safran attempted to build a narrative of “artists vs. ideologues” in which he attacks the idea that artists must remain silent throughout political discourse, but instead he bumbled his way through a series of disjointed anecdotes ranging from mildly humorous to altogether dreary. Cracking outdated jokes about “Pokemon Go”, “Bae”, and “Yass”, his self described “clever wit” was at times uncomfortable to sit through.
It was difficult to follow where Safran was taking his arguments. One minute we would be following an investigation into a serial graffitist spreading a message of “death to uber”, the next minute we would be watching a video from over 30 years ago of his television escapades. Throughout all of which, the audience was left wondering what his point actually was.
A residing motif throughout the show is that you can “reverse park anything into your belief system”, with Safran citing a Facebook comment which brought bigotry into ticket masters booking fee. He continues to then “reverse park” his own beliefs by pin pointing a single sentence from a book published 20 years ago and make a big song and dance (literally) about it.
All of the jokes and sarcasm aside, what we are left with is merely a surface level exploration of a bevy of different political and religious ideologies. Each ideology we are presented with is painted with broad strokes, without a hint of nuance, and Safran makes no attempts to understand, or even explain, the reasons behind these radical political views. Instead, we are left with a caricature of fringe politics, elegantly depicted by Safran himself as a spider, with Josef Stalin’s head, atop a pile of skulls.
Everything lacked a touch of polish and panache. A lot of his jokes and stories had the potential to be quite humorous, but everything just felt like it was only 70% there. Reading from his notes detracted from the overall presentation and his delivery felt forced because of this. I wanted to laugh, and I wanted to enjoy the wit and sarcasm he was presenting, but I couldn’t help but feel that the show was a bit confused as to what it was. It wasn’t funny enough to be billed as a comedy but it wasn’t hard hitting enough to be an exposé on radicalism.
Full disclosure, I have never been across much of Safran’s work, nor have I read his critically acclaimed books, but I feel even die-hard Safran supporters will leave feeling somewhat underwhelmed. Safran toes the line between funny and obnoxious, and spends a majority of the show in the latter camp.
1.5 out of 5 stars