Bustle Booth

Leo Reich Is A Character

The breakout comedian believes that professing authenticity is “one of the most performative things you can do.”

by Brad Witter
Leo Reich makes a peace sign in his selfie.

Recent news headlines have left Leo Reich with big existential questions: How do we stop the war? What’s the economy? In his new HBO special, Leo Reich: Literally Who Cares?!, the comedian helps those struggling like him by taking direct political action. Just kidding! He went for “just plain old talking about myself.”

“If I’m satirizing anything, it’s stuff that I’ve identified in myself,” Reich tells Bustle. “I’m not pointing the finger at other people and going, ‘You really need to sort these problems out.’ I’m pointing the finger in the mirror, going, ‘What’s going on with you?’”

The 25-year-old Londoner’s special blends stand-up and performance art, including songs written by Six co-composer Toby Marlow, to poke fun at the “most callous, self-serving, individualistic, materialistic” parts of himself. He sees self-parody as a way to explore how people can be both deeply aware of their flaws and deeply unwilling to change — joking, for example, that big problems “like climate change or whatever” can ultimately be solved by “very small, meaningful individual actions,” such as investing in a carbon neutral therapist.

Courtesy of HBO

The comedian’s path to a coveted HBO special was unusually speedy; after spending just a few years honing his craft at London comedy clubs and in Cambridge University’s Footlights sketch troupe, Reich debuted Literally Who Cares?! at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in summer 2022. After staging the set in Melbourne, Australia, and New York City, as he tells it, “suddenly I’m sitting in this skyscraper, like, ‘You’ve got yourself a deal!’ ... And now we’re here, I guess.”

His proximity to the vanguard is one of his greatest strengths; there’s a lot of talk about Gen Z these days, but rarely by Gen Zers themselves. “As a generation, Gen Z is talked about constantly but rarely humanized in a way that’s realistic on the screen,” he says. (In the future, he would like to correct the record with his own sitcom.)

Reich cautions against over-generalizing about his highly atomized generation, but concedes his peers been uniquely affected by the proliferation of social media — and that the cracks in online self-performance are starting to show. “Every time we open our phone and every time we self-present on Instagram or dating apps or whatever, there’s a massive shame attached to it,” he says. “I think we’re at this interesting inflection point where our relationship to the ways we perform online has become so disjointed in that no one even really believes themselves when they post something. And I don’t know how long that is going to be sustainable.”

Courtesy of HBO

Hence Reich’s disinterest in pinpointing where his character ends and his “real” self begins. “We’re constantly performing a different version of ourselves, whether that’s online or with people we know, people we love,” he says. “Finding a kernel of authenticity at the core of yourself is actually one of the most performative things you can do.”

Get to know more about Reich in the Bustle Booth questionnaire below.

In The Bustle Booth

What’s your coffee order?

An iced black americano in the dead of winter.

What cities are the saved weather locations on your phone?

Just London. Is that sad? I’ll lie. Monaco and Guadeloupe.

What is your star sign?

Leo. Which is also my name. Humiliating beyond belief.

What’s your favorite overused movie quote?

“Ladies. It’s a Fritz-Bernaise.” [from Bridesmaids]

What was your favorite cartoon as a kid?

Xiaolin Showdown.

What’s one movie or TV show that you're currently obsessed with?

All of Us Strangers. Hot AND sad? Now THAT’S a movie.

Who is your celebrity idol?

Santa! I love how he uses his platform.

If you had to be on a reality TV show, which one would it be?

The Japanese one where they give toddlers little tasks. I would be the toddler. I love little tasks.

What’s your go-to karaoke song?

“All By Myself.” Tears in my eyes, fifth beer in my hand, friends on their phones.

What's something that's been inspiring you lately?

Nature! Just kidding. My own Instagram!

What’s something you’d want people to say about you?

“I take this man to be my lawful wedded husband.”