Some of the best stand-up comedy centres around self-deprecation. Comedians have
continuously found success in creating extended jokes, skits and gags about their character flaws, because it often forms the basis of side-splitting material. Crucially, however, comedic self-deprecation teeters on a tipping point. If the scales weigh too heavily on the side of genuine suffering, it is often no longer funny. Assmonkey: In Conversation – though not without its merits – is a show which has fallen by the wayside in its sprawling attempt to make light of serious problems.
‘Johnny Assmonkey’ is the name that self-confessed mental health sufferer Sophia Del Pizzo has given her anxiety. Across this one-hour one-woman show, she explores her relationship with issues of the mind and body through a whistle-stop tour of mediums: we encounter stand-up, role play, video clips, singing and audience participation. You wouldn’t think that Del Pizzo experienced acute anxiety given her command of the stage, which she fills with an energetic presence.
Whilst her anecdotes and observations are certainly interesting, they are also not hugely
funny. It would be false to state that the audience don’t find the show amusing, and that a few titters and chuckles don’t regularly echo around the cave-like venue (the woman sitting in front of me, in particular, is laughing her head off), but Del Pizzo so often delves into dark territory that it feels borderline immoral to join in the mockery. I don’t want to laugh at her account of spending four hours locked in a room on a psychiatric ward; my heart strings tug for her.
That said, there are certainly more light-hearted moments within the show which come off well. As Del Pizzo successfully recreates her own anxious feelings in the audience when she threatens individual participation, she finds a good sport in audience member Ed. Subjecting him to a quick Rorschach-inspired inkblot test whilst in character as a shrill Lorraine Kelly, her off-the-cuff quips and remarks are much more successful than her repeated references to bowel movements throughout the show.
Assmonkey is an experimental venture that is not quite pulled off; given that the show has been running for a year, it doesn’t feel cohesive. It is, however, brave, honest and thought-provoking – and I’ll always raise a glass to a woman speaking openly about both
masturbation and mental health.