Review of a Review: The Times – Dominic Maxwell (Joan Rivers Birmingham)

This review of Joan Rivers’ show In Birmingham was written by Dominic Maxwell, who is a critic for the popular ‘The Times’ newspaper. The show reviewed was entitled ‘Now or Never’ and is touring up until the 22nd of October.  Dominic himself doesn’t seem to have any comedy-background personally, but delving into the area of comedy for his work for the paper has let him see many various comedy gigs and festivals, so he can compare his experiences.

His review shows a positive opinion of Joan Rivers and he even notes in awe, how she ‘paints herself’ as a ‘shallow opportunist’. Although people walked out, he praises her skills as a comedian and how she ‘knows how far she can go’: a point that seems contradictory in that Joan Rivers is quite well known for her offensive comedy and yet people still walked out. However, Maxwell does seem to have some general knowledge about Joan Rivers and her style of comedy: as he mentions a joke about her closest friends, and as from the start he expected her to be offensive and applauds her for it. Such knowledge and strong opinion, however, questions the reliability of this reviewer. Can he have seen this show with no expectations or pre-formed opinions? I can’t believe he has. Comedy’s reliance on personal preference is perhaps one thing that makes it so difficult to judge in an unbiased way.

One thing I dislike about this review is the re-use of one of Rivers’ jokes. Maxwell attempts at using her joke of how if River dropped dead on stage, the audience would get a good show. Maxwell not only quotes this joke to finish his review, but he also tries to incorporate it into its’ title and theme (based on the overall theme of the show), beginning with the line ‘Joan Rivers is close to death’. While I actually like this opening line independantly due to its ability to attract attention (and how it makes good use of a set-up and subversion), to quote a joke by Joan Rivers for a written review just doesn’t work. Jokes are generally verbally based and are made effective by timing and voice. Therefore, placing a directly quoted verbal-joke in a written mode review just retracts it and takes away the skill it takes to make the joke funny. Maxwell’s theme could have worked better if he hadn’t quoted directly, but paraphrased or explained the essence.

However, Maxwell does a good job of promoting the show. He effectively makes it more inviting and gives us enough details to be able to research it and buy tickets later (presuming the readers have internet access). While not showing an overall unbiased and independent view, he shows his positive personal opinion well, while also rounding off his arguments by stating the negatives in a subtle manner. Overall I liked this review and would read more of Maxwell’s reviews.

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