Scott Capurro

The controversial comic isn't afraid to tackle the taboo subjects on his return to Belfast

McHugh’s Basement is jam packed on the final weekend of the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, a sold out crowd ready to witness American comic Scott Capurro’s return to Northern Ireland. It is no surprise that the event is so popular – Capurro is one of the most notorious comedians on the scene, well known as ‘the comic who makes people cry’.

Local comedian Shane Todd gets things started. The young Holywood comic has seen his fair share of success, with numerous appearances on BBC NI television, and he delivers some well-timed gags. However, despite a handful of belly laughs from the crowd, he is met with a slightly lukewarm response. It's not really Todd's night.

Capurro takes to the stage sipping on a coffee and greeting the crowd warmly. Despite his fierce reputation the comic is instantly likeable. His wicked material is delivered with a deadpan camp drawl, combined with a lot of heart and a lack of fear.

It's difficult to relate his material in detail, as Capurro's comedy is every bit as controversial and blue as is reputed. Much more importantly, however, it is extremely funny. Not just funny, but ribticklingly hilarious – Capurro delivers far more than just the shock laughs he is best known for.

The barrage of gags comes so thick and fast that not all of them hit home, but the ones that do certainly pack a punch. The audience reception flags a little at times, but Capurro is a consummate professional and thinks on his feet with impressive speed.

Throughout the evening, just about every conceivable taboo is not just broken, but pummelled beyond recognition. A large proportion of the jokes are pointed not only at the audience, but at the comedian himself.

Topics covered include Capurro’s reaction to the anti-gay sentiments of certain members of the muslim community in London (where he is now based); why he has sexual fantasies involving Jesus but not Muhammad; how it’s OK to make holocaust gags because ‘nobody laughs in Germany anyway’; as well as an assortment of one liners involving the royal family, Christopher Reeve, AIDs, fisting, anal rape and paedophilia.

This might sound shocking, and it is. But one must hear these jokes in context to appreciate their point. It is clear that Capurro is definitely not, as has been reported before, a bigot, racist or, indeed, the antichrist.

The evening is spiced up even further with some genuinely thought-provoking banter between Capurro and audience members of various nationalities and sexualities seated in the front row. The night culminates in a graphic, screaming whirlwind of a foul mouthed one-man re-enactment of a particularly shocking sex act that the comic had previously engaged in with his boyfriend.

It is perhaps surprising that there is a lack of Northern Ireland specific material – the Troubles are usually easy pickings for boundary-pushing comedians. Indeed, after the gig, I overhear an audience member criticise Capurro for ‘not being political enough’. However, it almost feels like a reprieve to avoid the easy jokes of this ilk.

Obviously, Scott Capurro is a comic who subscribes to the notion that comedy should have no boundaries. His logic dictates that to avoid certain 'untouchable' subjects only breeds prejudice. Everything must be open to ridicule, or nothing is.

This is a sentiment I can understand, although for me there is a further stipulation: the material should also be funny and not just provocative or mean-spirited for the sake of it. Furthermore, it should be thought-provoking and ideally delivered with skill, style and charisma. Fortunately for Belfast, Capurro has all these qualities and more.