‘Do I overreach?”, asks Jacqueline Novak. Well, yes – no show ever overreached more, which is what makes Get on Your Knees such a remarkable comedy. The show, which arrives trailing all kinds of glory from Off-Broadway, is about the blowjob. It’s a philosophy of the blowjob, a spoof academic treatise on the blowjob, a personal history of blowjobs – and a full spate of ridiculous metaphors for the penis soft and hard and every which way to orally arouse it. In the long line of comedies borne of overthinking things not usually taken seriously, few ever over-thought to this spectacular effect.
There’s not much you don’t get in Get on Your Knees, a 90-minute show notable for its verbal profusion as well as its eye-catching subject matter. You get Novak the playful and skilful standup, mainlining that brand of intellectual superiority and brittle self-regard also practised by her podcast co-host Kate Berlant. (“As a woman of ideas, everything from the chin down feels beneath me.”) You get a handful of free-standing routines, about boyfriends’ dads or – and this one’s brilliant – the relationship between the confident and self-deprecating halves of Novak’s personality.
But the meat of Get on Your Knees is Novak’s blowjob material; it’s the most phallic standup set since Richard Herring’s Talking Cock. The first half essentially trolls the penis, ruthlessly dismantling the macho language (“penetrate”; “rock-hard”) and mythologies around the act of fellatio. The penis, argues Novak, is feminine and floral – unlike the surprisingly masculine (Stoic, self-contained) female orgasm. Good luck resisting the intellectual bravado and rhetorical force of this first 45 minutes, upon which Novak then builds the tale of her own tentative then cocksure journey through oral sex.
That second section is a mite more conventional, and its narrative twists aren’t wholly unexpected. Probably it’s 10 minutes too long – even while acknowledging that the show’s point is in giving us a lot to swallow. But Novak’s overreaching – the rendering of her smutty stories in high-blown literary and metaphysical terms (“The Greeks were right: we can’t escape our fates … ”); the endless arresting analogies – never stops being audaciously funny.