Review: Courtney Pauroso: Vanessa 5000

The LA clown's portrayal of a sentient sex robot is intensely physical and unexpectedly moving

comedy review (edinburgh) | Read in About 2 minutes
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Courtney Pauroso
Photo by Jill Petracek
Published 11 Aug 2023

“My name is Vanessa 5000 and I am here to destroy humanity,” Courtney Pauroso says in her best text-to-speech Alexa voice. “Just kidding, I am a sex robot ha ha.” And so begins Vanessa 5000’s maniacal product demonstration, where over the course of an hour, we’re invited to test the capabilities and cutting-edge technology of the latest in a long line of sex robots. 

The audience is key to Vanessa 5000’s demonstration and through games, impressions and roleplay, as well as regular references to corporate sponsors BetterHelp, Pornhub and Taco Bell, she proves her worth as a product of modernity and capitalist culture that is made for the pleasure of men. She stretches, twerks and cartwheels her way around the stage, forever plugged in but gradually becoming conscious and alert to her role in society. 

Pauroso is an intensely physical performer, her eyes wide and soulless, movements perfectly stilted and uncanny – a purposeful anti-sexy contrast to Vanessa 5000’s black latex outfit and stripper boots. As an artist working within the clown tradition, Pauroso is excellent at amping up the farce and absurdity of her character, switching from insentient being to goblin mode with ease. 

But this is by no means just a silly little clown show making fun of robots and AI. When she picks up her bright red bass to serenade the audience, leading eventually to an unexpectedly moving cover of Radiohead’s ‘Fake Plastic Trees’, we get a glimpse of vulnerability as the robotic mask temporarily slips. Worn out by society’s expectations, constant forward-movement and throwaway culture, Pauroso shows that she is as human, and flawed, as the rest of us.