Janine Harouni review - the platonic ideal of a comedy show
Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh Festival
By Dominic Maxwell for The Times on August 6th, 2019
Janine Harouni shows aspiring comic storytellers how it’s done.
Some Fringe debutants arrive full of promise, but look a bit rough around the edges. Janine Harouni, a New Yorker turned Londoner, arrives looking ready for her Neftlix special. Her show, Stand Up With Janine Harouni (Please Remain Seated), is a tale that so nimbly mixes laugh-out-loud lines, smart structure and tender personal revelation that its pretty much the platonic ideal of an autobiographical Edinburgh hour.
They should send shuttle buses around town to pick up aspiring comic storytellers to come and see how its done. And if Harouni holds the stage with such smiling, word-perfect poise that this feels as much like a theatrical monologue as it does stand-up, she makes sure to keep the gags coming even as she paints a vivid picture of growing up in the Republican stronghold of Staten Island.
She was raised Catholic and conservative like her parents, but became liberal after going away to university. Dropping in and out of accents here, she becomes her tough Italian-American mother or her Lebanese-American father. He voted Trump, as did most people on Staten Island. He has no time for his daughter accusing him of endorsing Islamophobia by doing so. Is he the villain of the piece, then, this father who also spoke out against gay marriage? Far from it: Harouni has a bad car crash that thrusts her back into the bosom of her family.
Parents and kids, rebellion and reunion, the love that cuts through political labels: we’ve heard it all before. Yet not only do we need reminding now more than ever that political differences are neither insuperable nor eternal, but Harouni makes her story so resonant by keeping it so personal. You leave feeling you know not only all the outspoken Harouni’s, but also her gay friend, her Irish boyfriend, the girlfriends whose night out ends up in disaster. And even the throwaway jokes, including the stuff about the difference between English and American penises, plays into the larger themes of how our circumstances form our norms.
This isn’t quite Harouni’s first time at the circus; she played here in 2017 with a sketch trio, Muriel. This, though, is her arrival as a solo writer and performer of invigorating skill.