“We had to put a sign on the door halfway through the run saying, ‘This isn't a toilet’.'" That's not commentary on the Leo Reich's solo comedy show Literally Who Cares—people were walking in mid-show actually thinking it was a bathroom.
Though it now plays Off-Broadway, the solo comedy show began at Edinburgh Fringe venues in a repurposed Portakabin (a multi-function portable trailer). "That's the sort of the glitz and the glamour. It literally looked like a pop-up toilet in an alleyway. When I jumped around, the floor would shake,” Reich describes. Following a sold-out run at the festival and a sold-out transfer to London’s Soho Theater, the stand-up comedian’s 60-minute show plays Greenwich House Theater through March 11.
In his show about the pitfalls of today’s generations (and the grim future they face), Reich leans into mocking his fellow 20-somethings. “I play a heightened, more ridiculous, worse version of myself—more narcissistic. A callous, careerist version of myself. I, in the show, think I'm doing a gorgeous piece of anecdotal performance art. But, it simultaneously, kindly mocks the narcissism and fear of young people at the moment.” The difference between himself and his persona couldn’t be more obvious in a quick glance at Reich’s baseball cap and makeup-free face—a far cry from the tousled curls and smokey eye makeup he sports onstage. It’s a show which speaks for and back at young people. It also opens the door for other generations to both laugh at and sympathize with them. And it brings all together for a good laugh.
Behind the comedy, though, is a very real and very earnest hope for the show. “There's a certain mix of experiences as a person growing up in the world right now, and making that first step into adulthood at the moment,” he begins. While he parodies himself and young people as a whole, he’s also spotlighting the very real pressures today’s generations face— from the horrors of a 24-hour news cycle and the pressure to brand yourself on social media to giving up the dream of owning a home before the age of 40. “I wanted to dramatize what that does to a person, and the side of our generation that is less woke-activist and more self-involved.”
It’s a fine line Reich is hoping to walk between delivering a self-effacing and funny show that doesn’t proclaim “the world is so hard for kids these days.” After all, he’s the first to admit that things really aren’t so tough. “In many ways, life has never been easier for anyone ever than it has been for specifically me,” he says.
The solo show developed out of a previous work the comedian had planned to present at Fringe in 2020, but “thank God, it didn’t happen,” says Reich. “The show I was going to do then was a straight-up, storytelling stand-up show, which was very earnest. Like, ‘Oh, my life's actually super hard. And I've been through a lot.’ It was a trauma show. And I think the one positive thing about the pandemic is that I didn't do that show. It gave me perspective.” As Reich reflected on the mindset that had been behind that first show, Literally Who Cares began to develop. Evolving from that previous bit, the comedian kind of parodies the original show and the belief that one’s story is so important and needs to be told. Given his stand-up, it’s little surprise the actor can’t pass up making fun of himself a little even in conversation. “I'm still not super self-aware. Like a tiny bit more, hopefully.”
Eagle-eyed theatregoers will also catch in the show’s credits a familiar name: Tony winner Toby Marlow. “We're like best friends from uni. I knew Toby while they were writing SIX.” That friendship gave Reich the chance to, as he jokes, “put enough emotional pressure” on Marlow to write music for Literally Who Cares. Turns out Marlow is even one of the friends Reich has turned to for dramaturgical advice ahead of the show’s American debut—but he had to wait for a response back as Marlow initially texted, “I'm so sorry, I can't read this right now. I'm at the Grammys.” (It’s worth noting that like Literally Who Cares, SIX also took off at Edinburgh Fringe.)
When it comes to the script, there haven’t been any massive changes since Literally Who Cares ran at Fringe. It sparks a moment of light-hearted panic for the comedian. “Oh my god, I haven't changed a goddamn thing. I'm saying [that] now and I'm like, ‘Maybe that's a mistake. I'm gonna dive into the script as soon as I get off this call now,” he exclaims. He has, however, been working on updating references. “I keep texting my American friends being like, ‘do people in New York know about Love Island, like people in?’ That one's a yes. But, they don't know the song 'Mercy' by Duffy, apparently," he shares.
Where changes have been made are in the show's design. Fringe productions are typically low-tech, partially due to the festival’s vast offerings which share performances spaces. The result is quick load-in and load-out times for every performance. The nostalgia in Reich's voice is noticeable as he reflects on performing Literally Who Cares at the Scottish extravaganza. “That is the joy of it. Especially off the pandemic, it was really nice to just pack people in a little box, just sweat pouring down everyone's face it, that manic energy.” Since his show has transferred to London and now New York, Reich has been able to do more with lighting and effects to up the production value. But, it’s not strictly for aesthetics’ sake. Reich explains, “The point of the show on some level is that the person is so delusional and insane. The more production value you throw at it, hopefully the funnier it gets. It looks crazy and I look even crazier in it.”
Aside from debuting Literally Who Cares at the annual festival, Reich’s history with the Edinburgh Fringe extends back to his teenage years. “I saw Bo Burnham at the Fringe when I was like 13 or 14, and that was the first Fringe I ever went to. My mind was totally blown, and that was a massive reason that I wanted to go to Edinburgh. That’s the Edinburgh origin story for me.” A beat passes before he huffs out a light chuckle. “Which is ironic, because he’s obviously an American comic.”
Reich went on to attend Cambridge University where he joined the famous sketch group The Footlights, whose list of notable former members is so long, it has its own Wikipedia page. (But to name a few, it includes the likes of Emma Thompson, Sue Perkins, John Oliver, Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry, Olivia Colman, John Cleese, and Graham Chapman.) While at university, he performed at Fringe three years in a row. Though still early in his career, might Leo Reich grace such a list someday for the next generation?
While there’s many British comedians that Reich admires, it turns out that many of his biggest inspirations came up in the New York comedy scene. “John Early, Kate Berlant, Catherine Cohen, Pat Regan, Julio Torres,” he lists off. That New York-Fringe connection brings Reich’s story with Literally Who Cares full circle as he makes his New York debut. It’s a moment in his life that is both incredibly fulfilling and daunting as he faces “having massive imposter syndrome. I’m scared beyond my wildest dreams. But also, it’s so exciting.”
Part of that excitement comes from his joy at being able to “romanticize absolutely anything you’re doing.” As Reich describes it, “you can sort of romanticize absolutely anything you're doing in New York, or at least I can, because it feels like you're in a film the whole time.” But, it’s also because he’s never been able to be here for so long before in one trip. “I'm trying to focus on the fact that if nothing else, I'll live in New York for a month. And that's good enough for me."