Bert Kreischer and the Mechanics of Subversion

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I went to see Bert Kreischer last Saturday night. I realised, once he came onstage and took off his shirt, that I had seen him before: he tells the story of his student trip to Russia in the viral video ‘The Machine.’

It’s a pretty funny story, and this real-life, bare chested Homer Simpson does a good job of delivering what is essentially a barroom tale driven by an uncertain ratio of fact and fiction.

If you evaluate what Bert has to offer on the basis of ‘The Machine’, it’s a kind of alter-ego that his ideal audience would put on like a cape in order to say everything ‘inappropriate’ they can think of and get away with it by virtue of being funny.

Last Saturday, I had the best possible experience of his comedy, which vastly exceeded any expectations set by ‘The Machine’. I didn’t even know who I was going to see, and my very basic expectations were subverted entirely – even in terms of the perceived target of his humour.

Out of the gate, Kreischer struck me as being a lot like Ali Wong of Baby Cobra and Hard Knock Wife fame; a pretty gross assembly of borderline confessions lit by pathological over-sharing, and often plumbing the intimate (and often sordid) private details of their lives, and the lives of their families.

Ali Wong reveals the details of her husband’s anal sex pleasures, her own propensity to have sex with homeless men and her husband’s (formerly) secret financial debt. Bert tells us about his daughter’s first periods and his inability to parent while his wife is away for the weekend.

He set out by informing us that his comedy was going to be offensive, and this was met with many cheers from the audience at large. Again, it might also be my prejudice, but it looked like an assembly of people who wanted to throw a few ideological turds at sacred cows. Bert began with a few domestic violence jokes to break the ice and from there, some racial jokes to get you all the way into the weeds.

It’s difficult to explain, let alone justify, without retelling the specifics of a racist joke told in The Melbourne Arts Centre in 2019, but the joke, and its placement, was utterly brilliant.

From that point, the show became a fabric of jokes and anecdotes that proceeded on a loosely thematic basis, each of which he occasionally returned to in order to tighten and increase their pitch as they progressed. The effect was to wring me out to the point where I was laughing harder and harder to a point of actual exhaustion.

No structure that sophisticated could be casual; it had to be deliberate, which again raises the question: how much of this is true, how much of this is fiction, and perhaps the true indication of his skill as a comedian is that his audience is so gratified by the humour, his sleight of hand is not only successful, but entirely forgotten.

This question arose most obviously when he began to tell a story about wanting to buy a gun. Because he’s such a useless adult, everything is in his wife’s. Because he can’t prove ownership of anything, he can’t buy a gun.

Eventually, his gun dealer assists him in getting around the law by talking his wife into writing a lease that says Bert rents a room from his wife in his own house and, hey presto, he’s got a Glock.

Bert dramatises the joy that comes from the mindless power of gun ownership for a while and then explains that his dealer offered to sell him an AR15. This is the notorious weapon of choice amongst lunatics that want to kill as many people in shooting sprees as possible, and is found at the heart of gun ownership debates worldwide. Sandy Hook, Las Vegas, Port Arthur and New Zealand mass shootings all featured AR15-style weapons.

I heard an Australian journalist discussing Barack Obama’s impassioned plea for gun control in the wake of Sandy Hook School shootings. Obama opined that countries like the United States, namely Australia and the UK, had instituted gun control measures and solved their problems where mass shootings were concerned.

The journalist explained that the US was nothing like either the UK or Australia: they had never been able to let go of their wild west mythology; effectively, pathological fear was at the core of the national obsession with gun ownership.

Kreischer explained that he didn’t want to bring such a terrible instrument of death into his home, much less bring another of those terrible weapons into the community for fear of the ends it might be turned to.

The gun dealer asked about what Bert had planned in the event of the apocalypse. Kreischer’s eyes widened and he explained that once the apocalypse was mentioned, he had to have an AR15 for himself.

Naturally, the adult in the house – Kreischer’s wife – puts her foot down and forbade the gun. The dealer heard and whispered down the phone line, “Hey Bert, I know you can’t talk, so if you want the gun, just push a button and I’ll have it here in the store for you to pick up tomorrow.”

Bert concluded by saying that after getting the AR15, he had to go get a bump stock – the device used in the Las Vegas shooting to convert the weapon to fully automatic fire, allowing the shooter to kill fifty eight people.

I don’t watch a lot of comedy; all the comedy I’ve seen of late has been Ali Wong and Hannah Gadsby on Netflix. I found Ali Wong fairly revolting and not terribly funny, but that could be because I’m not her target. I admired Hannah Gadsby, but her show seemed to be grounded in comedy that became an ideological platform.

At the denouement, Gadsby explained the ‘target’ of her show as all the straight while males in the audience, instructing them to ‘Pull their socks up’. To be frank, as fabulous as her show was, I felt pushed out of it at that point and the tension that generated its force dissipated.

As much as I appreciate her point, I felt she was wrong to hold me personally accountable for a litany of wrongs perpetrated by men against women, including her being bashed because she is a lesbian.

Kreischer, on the other hand, while he appears to be from the opposite end of the ideological spectrum, never let me go. I stayed skewered, if you like.

I’ve never understood the notion of a ‘funny bone’, but Bert Kreischer made me laugh so much, and so hard, I doubt I could have resisted even if I had known what I would see beforehand. It felt as if my laughter was involuntary, as sure a reflex as the contraction of the pupil once the doctor shines a pen torch into my eye.

I’m not sure what he diagnosed; possibly just my prejudices. But I do know that regardless of whether he’s telling jokes about race, or menstruation, or gun control, the true subject of Bert Kreischer’s humour is me.

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