the one about comedy.
The “Brave” Female – Amy Schumer’s The Leather Special
First up on my personal watch list of all the new comedy released in March is America’s sexually-liberated Sweetheart, Amy Schumer, in her new Netflix special The Leather Special (aptly named because she wore a head-to-toe leather suit, which, in her words, “looks like an actual trash bag.”)
My first note: Don’t trust the Netflix reviews! The low reviews – averaged at 1.5 stars as I write this – are the result of a push by an alt-right sub-reddit group to get Amy’s stand-up special rating as low as possible. In an Instagram post, Schumer acknowledged the trolling, thanking them because “they make me feel powerful and dangerous and brave.”
However, although the one-star reviews aren’t indicative of Schumer’s performance, the special is not exactly 5-star stuff – the set feels like four or five jokes that go on too long, and Schumer relies too heavily on crude humor. For someone who claims her special makes her feel dangerous, as a Los Angeles Times review puts it: “the dirtier [her set] gets, the less daring it actually feels.”
Bottom line: while The Leather Special isn’t as daring as Amy thinks, it was definitely very her – gross sex, body image issues, and being white trash are among her standard topics. Amy’s set is energetic; she shows obvious comfort in herself and on the stage. But it’s not necessarily daring - instead, the new special reflects a seasoned pro who’s very good at what she does. You’ll laugh.
The One-Man Show – Mike Birbiglia’s Thank God for Jokes
Mike Birbiglia’s new Netflix special is the direct opposite of Schumer’s. Thank God for Jokes is technically a one-man-show and not a stand-up special; it’s staged on an off-Broadway theatre. It’s an intimate performance, and Mike does what he does best: captivates an audience through layered storytelling and well-timed delivery. He shares stories of his first time being arrested, his experience writing for the Gotham awards, and his set at a Christian college, which was full of Jesus jokes that did not go over too well with his audience (“If Jesus came back today, he’d be a Jewish Socialist; he’s essentially Bernie Sanders”). The show is, very consciously, an homage to joke-telling, Birbiglia asserting throughout the hour, in one way or another, that “jokes have to be about something.”
This is an ironic space to share with Amy, whose jokes are about, well, nothing, really. Or, nothing we didn’t already know about her, at least. Watching the two specials back-to-back illustrates in an interesting way the full spectrum of performed comedy – a well-crafted and well-executed joke can be really funny, but so can a simple fart joke.
The Sitcom Startup – Pete Holmes’ Crashing
Crashing is not a special, but a new HBO sitcom, though each episode does feature several minutes of various comedians performing on stage (a la FX’s Louie). Loosely based on Pete Holmes’ own journey into stand-up, it’s an honest and somewhat brutal insight into the New York comedy scene, chock full of cameos (Artie Lang, TJ Miller, and Hannibal Buress all appear in the first four episodes).
In the show’s pilot, a white-bred, Christ-loving Holmes finds his wife sleeping with a hunky-yet-peaceful art teacher; she (his wife) promptly informs Holmes that she’s leaving him and moving with her lover to Florida. Such a scene would feel way too clichéd if it wasn’t the actual truth: Pete went to a Christian college and met his wife there; eventually, she cheated on him and left him, after which he threw himself into comedy. As he mentions in his Bullseye interview, his divorce was “90% shock, but 10% relief.”
The episodes that follow the pilot are a snowball of unfortunate events: being mugged (and a little bit stabbed) on the mean streets of New York; his wife selling all of his possessions; bombing on stage in the five minutes he can barely manage to get, other comedians in the scene ruthlessly belittling him. Last week’s episode, “Barking,” brought the first glimmer of hope to a show that seemed to only be a downward spiral: Pete managed to pack a dingy, late night comedy club with a group of travelling Asian business men, after cheerfully giving them directions earlier in the night. The packed club ignites a flame in the bored and tired comedians, a beacon of hope personified by Pete himself. It’s these moments that give the show a little shine – hopefully, there’s more to come, because Pete’s endless optimism is infectious, and it would be pretty devastating if such hope and faith didn’t pay off.