Jen Brister – The Optimist ★★★★

If comic Jen Brister has learned anything in the past 18 months, it’s that she’s no good in a crisis. Her tour may be called The Optimist, but take that with a large pinch of ironic salt.

“Well done for coming out on a Tuesday night, Edinburgh. If I was you, I’m not sure I could be arsed.” As attempts to secure the love of an audience go, it’s perhaps a gamble. But Brighton comedian Jen Brister’s show, the ironically named The Optimist, assumes the audience is always in on the joke and is happy to take a stroll on the abrasive side.   

In truth, there was little warming up needed. Brister’s podcasting partner, Maureen Younger (supporting on selected dates for the remainder of the tour), had the audience cackling throughout her hilariously self-deprecating set. 

The Optimist is largely preoccupied with Brister’s advancing towards middle age and the menopause, and the disdain for the world that comes with both. The topics covered, then, aren’t massively original: parenting, the Government, and the pandemic all feature. But Brister’s gift is taking the dark thoughts we all allow ourselves to think, express them, but undercut with a delivery that makes it clear that it’s not what she’s really about. Possibly.  

So, Brister reframes lying to her kids as merely an expression of love for them. Her obsession with Gwyneth Paltrow is, in actual fact, driven by hatred. And the claps she gave for NHS workers allow her to give it to the Tories. (Which most definitely gets the audience onside.)

The set piece of any Brister performance has long since been her vignettes about her Spanish mother. And tonight continues that tradition, even if the conclusion is now a heartbreaking one. A piece about boys exposing themselves, however, definitely provides the evening’s side splitting moment. (It’s probably not what you think.) 

Brister tries to rationalise the vitriol she faced online from mothers who took her diatribes about being a mother at face value. And she also relates attempts at connecting on some human level with right-wingers. But it’s when she channeling her anger at the lunacy she sees around her that her comedy truly sings.  

At those points, world weariness and judgment have seldom sounded so amusing. 

The Optimist was reviewed at the Stand Comedy Club, Edinburgh  on 4 October

Funny, furious and ★★★★ four stars from The Recs 

Tour Tickets

Catch Jen Brister on tour until February 2023

Barnard Castle | Nottingham | Birmingham | Dorchester | Coventry | Leicester | Cardiff | Liverpool | Bangor | Northampton | Cambridge | Bristol | York | London | Brighton | Bath | Exeter | Leeds | Salford | Sheffield | Reading | Folkstone | Colchester

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