Hannah Einbinder, review: a fine introduction to an offbeat comic voice

Hannah Einbinder - Penske Media
Hannah Einbinder - Penske Media

One of the most acclaimed shows on TV, HBO’s Hacks is a culture-clash comedy about comedy. A Joan Rivers-ish older comedian (played by Jean Smart) and a Lena Dunham-like millennial (Hannah Einbinder) are forced to work together, but can’t understand each other’s style of humour.

“They’re not jokes,” Smart’s character sneers about the young writer’s gags. “They’re like thought poems.” She would be baffled by Einbinder’s real-life stand-up, too. This London run has been sold out for weeks, but any sense of buzz is swiftly – and expertly – extinguished by the 27-year-old, who’s so laid-back she’s practically supine.

This is a deliciously low-key collection of thought poems, deadpan confessions and surreal musings, delivered with spaced-out slowness. Einbinder once turned up late for work because she spent an hour and a half staring at a spider-web. It figures.

It’s not her fault she’s like this, Einbinder jokes. It’s partly down to years of Adderall, “chronic” marijuana, and – worst of all – Los Angeles tap water. “I’ve been throwing back tap with reckless abandon since ’95.”

It takes a while to get going; in particular, an early musical bit about mindful meditation outstays its welcome. Elsewhere, it can feel a little like being cornered at a party by a stoner desperate to tell you about the magic of plants. (To be fair, I did learn a good deal about pollen.) But once you’re on her wave-length, it’s delightful. Her daring control of pacing means she can spend three full minutes earnestly singing a Jewish dirge, creating laughs from the unease as we wait for the punchline.

Einbinder dissects millennial mores with the acuity of Alex Edelman – who is, incidentally, her partner. She is, she jokes, “only a good person on paper”, doing the right things for the wrong reasons, only going vegan “because I wanted to reduce my risk of getting cancer, but didn’t want to give up huffing paint.”

Her off-kilter outlook owes much to the peerless Maria Bamford, whose many-voiced act-outs are also an influence. (For one stand-out routine, Einbinder gives Mother Earth the voice of Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny.) She is, perhaps, more of a natural actress than a stand-up; the moments that make the most of her acting chops are easily the funniest. In a routine re-enacting her most embarrassing memory from school, she manages to make even blinking funny.

At just over 45 minutes (though advertised as 60), this set feels more like a promising calling-card than a triumphant arrival. But it’s a fine introduction to an interesting, offbeat comic voice: Einbinder is certainly no hack.

Until Oct 8; sohotheatre.com