'Alison Leiby: Oh God, A Show About Abortion' review — the timeliest show on stage right now
Alison Leiby's comedy act Oh God, A Show About Abortion falls right in line with its stand-up predecessors at the Cherry Lane Theatre: It matches the political relevance of Alex Edelman's Just For Us and the discussion of the taboo that defines Jacqueline Novak's Get On Your Knees. All three mine fantastic comedy (and sharp insights) from unexpected subjects, but Leiby's now stands apart as perhaps the most timely political comedy special on stage right now. Had I seen Oh God the day I was originally scheduled to — May 2 — I would have left the theatre, checked my phone, and seen the news of the leaked Supreme Court brief on the potential repeal of Roe v. Wade.
It was no less harrowing to see the show four days later, and Leiby acknowledges this: At my performance, she started off by telling us that "the show is the same" as before the leak (she's been performing it around New York since 2021), but she's "still exploring this as well." "This" being her feelings and her fear toward reproductive rights being jeopardized, as many others in my audience — mostly young women and femme-presenting people like myself — likely were.
Of course, that means Leiby, with her bitterly funny bits about periods and motherhood and the daily struggles of being a woman, is mostly preaching to the choir in Oh God. But although I'd wager a majority young, female audience is par for the course here, that's otherwise rare. It became immediately clear to me that Oh God is much more than a comedy show; it's a show of solidarity.
I, for one, felt incredibly seen by Leiby in the most oddly specific ways, as a fellow bespectacled only child with a history of back surgery and bad geography skills whose inability to keep even a cactus alive doesn't bode well for child-rearing. Leiby also talked during her entire abortion (another thing I'd probably do), having been only partially sedated. But what really stood out about that anecdote, besides it being one of her funniest, is that it's more about Leiby as a chatty person than Leiby as a person who had an abortion. Substitute "abortion" for wisdom tooth removal or eye surgery, and it would have the same hilarious effect.
That's the vibe of Oh God as a whole: Despite the title, it's not really a show about abortion. It's about abortion in the sense that Leiby had one, and she mentions what the options and process are like, doing a better job than a lot of actual sex education. But most of the show is filled with stories about mundane and widely relatable things relating to sex and womanhood: the awkward sex talk she had with her mom over Caesar salads, how women still can't talk about periods openly with men, and the overly chipper nature of birth control commercials — they show "musicals breaking out in a grocery store" when according to Leiby, they should really show a woman having a nightmare about being stuck with a crusty man and his child.
In other words, by not hyper-focusing on her abortion for the entire 70 minutes, she normalizes it, and shows herself as a complete and complex woman separate from motherhood. Leiby stresses that doesn't define or change her, and that abortion is something we can and should talk about in everyday conversation, not just when it's in crisis.
Now doesn't feel like the time to be laughing about anything remotely related to abortion — but at Oh God, it was a way to cope. Leiby offers that with skill and respect for the gravity of the current situation. She should really rename her show Oh Good, A Show About Abortion, and all types of people should bear witness to it. Her story is more necessary now than ever.
Photo credit: Alison Leiby in Oh God, A Show About Abortion. (Photo by Mindy Tucker)
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