One of countless acts this fringe whose Covid-delayed debuts feel long overdue, Leo Reich makes up for lost time in spectacular fashion with Literally Who Cares?! Pretty incontrovertibly, it marks the arrival of a new star – which won’t surprise Reich, whose immense ego and self-fascination is its presiding joke. “I will never not exist / Because I am life’s protagonist” runs one of several sung interludes that garnish the 23-year-old’s introductory hour. Here then is another – one of the best – of those shows that fashion the Gen-Z experience (performance as identity; everything commodified; a burning world) into uproarious, bleak-brilliant comedy.
In doing so, it clearly treads in the footsteps of acts like Kate Berlant, Catherine Cohen and before them Bo Burnham. Reich doesn’t opine on his generational experience, he embodies it, parading his now-booming, now-brittle self-regard before us like so many Instagram images. Like Berlant, he considers the audience privileged to be in his company. Like Cohen, he sings about having sex with people who hate him. But in Reich’s hands, none of this feels stale, as he hyperbolises the trauma of growing up queer, bemoans the burdens of adulthood (“we are made to do the emotional labour of knowing stuff about things”) and posits Love Island as a metaphor for our troubled times.
Reich is an absolute master of this material, delivering it with a camp flounce here, an exaggerated pout there – and always in inverted commas. If now and then one of his many veils of irony seems briefly to withdraw, isn’t the point that irony is the truth for Reich’s cohort of twentysomethings, and artifice the mortar with which they assemble their personalities? Unable to recall his actual beliefs (he lost the phone on which he’d jotted them down), and vague on what he actually feels (there’s a rich running joke about how acting oppressed, or happy, triggers the same endorphins as the real thing), there’s a bleakness Reich incorporates into his work without any sacrifice of joy. The gags here, after all – there’s a cracker about gay monogamy and the oppression of women – are top-drawer, and the show a must-see.