With his Bozo-esque semi-barnet and an arsenal of props including a pineapple radio and a bicycle horn, Andy Zaltzman doesn't look far off a common or garden clown. But his brand of comedy couldn't be further from the slapstick shenanigans normally found in a circus tent: here is a master of the erudite topical gag — and Zaltzman's current show Satirist for Hire proves it.
The format: before the show, Zaltzman invites audience members to select topics for him to satirise. In his sights tonight are Ed Milliband (obvs), the Queen (obvs), investment bankers (obvs) and, er, Muddy Waters.
Though the comedian's targets are often sitting ducks, he rarely resorts to cheap jibes. Instead, he takes jokes to places you wouldn't expect. On the topic of Scottish independence (someone clearly emailed in suggestions way too early) he veers off on a tangent about how he'd like to devolve from his own kids ("they contribute NOTHING financially"). On the aforementioned subject of banking, he cleverly steers his act into pre-established material about economist Adam Smith's self-regulating 'invisible hand' theory. If we had an invisible hand, says Zaltzman, we'd be anything but responsible with it.
There's more planned material than bare-knuckle improv here, and Satirist for Hire is rarely fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants stuff. However, what Zaltzman lacks in on-the-spot genius, he makes up for with ceaselessly inventive satire, not to mention an affable stage presence that never condescends. It feels like you've just made a witty friend.
When Zaltzman IS doing off-the-cuff stuff, that pineapple radio creates a clever distraction while he scribbles prep for his next sardonic assault. These pre-recorded 'radio' pieces are zany skits (the feasibility of turning sausages back into pigs, a 24-hour TV channel dedicated to Prince George). Here are welcome shades of The Bugle — the stone cold podcast classic Zaltzman performs with pal John Oliver. It reminds us he isn't just a great satirist, but an accomplish surrealist too.
It's a shame Andy Zaltzman is only for hire — we'd like to have him as a permanent fixture.
Satirist for Hire is at Soho Theatre on 26 September and 27 September — so hurry, hurry. Tickets £17.50 (£15 concessions). Londonist saw this performance on a complimentary ticket.