The British writer and comedian Leo Reich styles himself as a walking caricature, his cropped mop of slick curls and high cheekbones framing his frequently half-rolled eyes. Roving the compact stage of the Greenwich House Theater, where his darkly hilarious solo show “Leo Reich: Literally Who Cares?!” opened on Sunday, Reich is frenetic and restless, a self-consciously exaggerated cliché.
You know the type. Raised with smartphones in hand and prone to hyperbole, they are experts of self-presentation who use words like “literally” and “iconic” as filler. Onstage, Reich, 23, fashions himself as a hyperkinetic Gen Z avatar, playing off prevailing assumptions associated with those perennially known as “kids today.” He identifies as queer and hot, he says, preening with ironic self-regard. (A faux memoir he reads from onstage is titled, “A Portrait of the Artist as a Ripped Slut.”)
But Reich’s over-the-top vanity and arch detachment are another form of misdirection, his favored comedic strategy. The flippancy implied by the title of his 60-minute show, a taut and often mordant stand-up set punctuated with musical numbers (by the “Six” co-composer Toby Marlow), masks the profundity of the question it really asks: of how to look forward to life when the future seems, by all accounts, pretty bleak.
Every generation finds its reasons for disaffection, and those facing young people today are undeniably harsh. Of course, few among us are inured from the consequences of extreme digitization, climate change, war and a yearslong pandemic. But Reich points to the particular, twisted flavor of experiencing all of that at an age when the promise of innocence has disappeared from the menu. He says he first saw hard-core pornography online at age 9, spent his early 20s typing “death toll” into Google rather than casually dating and imagines that homeownership is so out of reach he’ll still be living with his parents in 2042.
None of this feels remotely like hand-wringing, though, and Reich is drolly circumspect (it’s not like 70-year-olds in the audience actually lived through the Holocaust, he tells us). But his show offers a keen and incisive distillation of how much has changed since the turn of the century, and how dizzying and absurd it can seem to people of any age. Musings about how to cope with the crises of modern life are interspersed with pivotal moments from his queer coming-of-age, lending the show a cohesive structure. But it’s Reich’s brashness and wry, reflexive panache that give “Literally Who Cares?!” its embodied dynamism.
Partly, this is thanks to how he builds momentum. Under the direction of Adam Brace, Reich flits seamlessly between bits, with punch lines cleverly enjambed at the ends of his sentences. (Rapid shifts in tone are greatly aided by the wit of Daniel Carter-Brennan’s lighting design.) The show traverses an impressive range of subjects as a result, while staying anchored in Reich’s own experience of being gay (a boon for branding, but still a psychological nightmare, he says), Jewish (doesn’t God seem like another controlling boyfriend?) and perpetually online, where signifiers of identity have become salable commodities.
There was a moment during childhood, Reich recalls, when he did a somersault, not realizing it would be his last one. He plays this realization with mock sentimentality, but the metaphor is a poignant one. Life is an accumulation of losses, and their pace is accelerating — privacy, innocence and the illusion of invincibility have all grown tougher to hold onto for long. If you’re wondering where all of this could be headed next, ask a young person who’s weathering the chaos with a wicked sense of humor.
Leo Reich: Literally Who Cares?!
Through March 11 at Greenwich House Theater, Manhattan; greenwichhouse.org. Running time: 1 hour 10 minutes.