Leo Reich knows the typical comic background. There is the boy who as a child played the class clown. The geek who used jokes to overcome childhood trauma. But Reich was none of these. “I’m not a good entertainer, I don’t think so,” he says, sipping black coffee at the Soho Theater bar. “I wish I was one of those people who is like” – he puts on a low, croaking voice – “‘As soon as I came out of the womb, people laughed, laughed, laughed, I was so funny'”. But no one ever told him he was funny. Nor did they suggest that he should have done standing. In fact, “I think I didn’t make a single person laugh until I was 20.”
But, for Reich, 20 years hasn’t been long and has made a lot of people laugh since. At 24, he leads a pack of Gen Z comedians who arrive on the cabaret scene. In August, his show Literally who cares !? became one of the Edinburgh Fringe’s biggest hits of 2022, earning a Best Newcomer nomination at the Edinburgh Comedy Awards and rave reviews from critics. Next week, he’ll be playing Hackney’s cavernous EarthH, his biggest show to date. To see him live is to witness a man obsessed with himself. The of him is a shtick rooted in solipsism. Lycra and dramatic, Black Swan-a style eye makeup, talks about taking care only of himself, partly because social media has trained him to do so and partly because the world his generation inherited is hellfire.
However, when the world is burning, you might as well make it fun. Reich sings, reads his made-up memoirs, and acts out scenes from a future fictional film script about his life, capturing both her self-centeredness and his inner turmoil. He jokes about his privilege of living in a west London apartment – whose finances he says he will never explain – and the show is sponsored by Deutsche Bank. Later, he mocks his nihilistic superficiality by explaining that smoking “is really worth 10 years of cutting my life if even one passerby thinks, ‘Maybe he’s French?'”
His rise is perhaps unsurprising: Reich grew up in London, studied privately and graduated from Cambridge University Footlights. It’s a path that many comedians have traveled before him, but Reich’s talent is singular and so it has been Literally, who cares !?. But that flashy onstage confidence is a ruse. When we meet, he is naturally self-deprecating and funny, switching to comic rumors, grimacing or pulling his baseball cap over his face in mock annoyance. So, that’s him in reality a narcissist? Maybe, but then he thinks most people his age are. He describes the character of him on stage as an exaggerated act of “self-parody” for the effect, in which a nugget of fundamental truth is heavily embellished.
As a teenager, Reich was “a fucking comedy nerd” who concluded that trying it alone was the best way to make friends with the comedians who inspired and influenced him: Simon Amstell (who he supported on tour last year), Stath leaves apartments creator Jamie Demetriou, American comedian Kate Berlant. She jokes that “it didn’t really work. I have the same amount of friends as before. “
He studied English in Cambridge, but Reich was only interested in performing with the Footlights, the comedy group that produced everyone from Emma Thompson to Tim Key. In fact, all five of her college choices while studying at the City of London School were based on the skill of their sketching groups. He laughs, fully aware of how “crazy” he can seem. “Because I hated school, I was planning my university period from the age of 15,” he says. “I was like, ‘I’m checking out whatever it is. I’ll just focus on the next piece, which will hopefully be better. ‘ And it was. “
There has been a pushback against the Footlights to-stardom pipeline in recent years, but the comedy is still dominated by privately-educated Oxbridge graduates like Reich. “I mean, he’s fucked up, obviously, so there’s that,” he says. “Totally fucked up. She’s adorable on a personal level, but she’s also like, ‘Oh God, that’s not great, is it?’ “Just last week, Fringe’s successful colleague Ania Magliano, who was in the spotlight with Reich, was performing on her show. right before him at the Soho Theater. For many, the idea that two of the industry’s brightest up and coming stars studied together at the same prestigious university is disappointing, but not unexpected. Reich’s success reinforces the arguments that those from stylish environments get the best opportunities. So while he may find it “so crazy” that he and his marriage mate have made a quantum leap together, he is aware that that’s not quite the case. “Zoom out and think, I don’t think many people they’d find it so crazy, “he says.” I think they’d find it pretty annoying. And that’s fair enough. “
Admitting that you have a “good fringe” seems pretty “f ** k,” Reich says, as the 2022 festival was plagued by tight audiences, exorbitant rents, and a general mood of dissatisfaction. Ticket sales dropped by a quarter this summer compared to 2019, last year the Fringe ran at full capacity, meaning more artists than ever lost money. Even someone like Reich, whose entire series has sold out and has seen shows moved to bigger venues, says that earning money from the Fringe simply “won’t happen” for him. Eventually, his show broke even. “The whole thing is fucked up… Cost of living, ticket prices, club prices, Covid, rent. All that stuff just turned into this thing that meant the Fringe spirit thing … was really on its knees. “
That is why the Gen Z narcissism he satirizes in his show is undermined – or perhaps enhanced by – a feeling of existential doom for the state of the world. In one song, she sings to the audience to “stop caring” for peace of mind. It might seem at odds with the idea of a politically aware Gen Z, but it’s much closer to the same experience as her. “It’s a half condescending and half exaggerated thing of the Generation Z being [told], ‘These people will save the world,’ ”he says. “It’s like, well, more or less. No, however. Really, we’re very scared of people who come up with opinions in 20 seconds about something and none of the opinions accumulate into anything. “Or, as Reich puts it on his program,” I’ve read the most fascinating two-thirds of a headline. “
In the end, he doesn’t believe in “my power as a comedian to change the world”. “This is what I find so strange about all these comics that were famous doing these opinion shows where they state their beliefs. [in] Netflix specials or whatever, “he says, apparently referring to Ricky Gervais and the like.” The new wave of ‘I was famous in 2001, here’s what I think of trans people’, that sort of thing. It’s so weird to me because it’s not fun to know. What [they] to think.”
Reich may not want to reclaim his job as a politician, but what do you think of the comedians roasting our chaotic government? A recent appearance by Joe Lycett on Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg went viral after he cheerfully stated in an interview with Liz Truss: “I’m actually very right-wing and I love it. I thought he gave very good clear answers. “After years of people saying that satire was dead, that you can’t do political comedies anymore, all the comedian had to do was say that he liked Truss’s politics and everyone thought that he was a genius. “That’s just the point. This is a really good example of someone doing good satire, that it’s not about marrying your specific beliefs as a guru. It’s about revealing nonsense in political culture, which is a lot more fun. If Joe Lycett had gone there and made a couple of jokes about how he thinks Labor should win the election, it would have been so boring. He’s a comedian. It’s not his role in the world. “
As for Reich’s role in the world, he wants to write primarily for TV and says he’ll probably take a year off before returning to the Fringe. “The dream is to have a screenwriter job and then do the stand-up as a weird little thing,” he says. If anything, the fact that success in Edinburgh doesn’t automatically convert to stardom is “quite liberating”. “Nobody is saying, ‘What will Leo Reich do now?’ Nobody said it. ” He stops and giggles. “Except maybe me.”
Leo Reich performs “Literally who cares ?!” to EarthH in Hackney on Friday 28th October