did that get a laugh?
“That’s B’rdway, Baby” – Oh, Hello Comes to Netflix
This month, John Mulaney and Nick Kroll brought their iconic personas, Gil Faizon and George St. Geegland, to Netflix in a gorgeously-shot production of their Broadway show, Oh, Hello. I’ve been a fan of the personas of Faizon (played by Kroll) and St. Geegland (Mulaney) for years: the characters, conceived almost a decade ago, are recurring staples on Comedy Central’s The Kroll Show and the podcast Comedy Bang Bang. Their Odd Couple-esque relationship and loosely-defined backstories (St. Geegland is a novelist and Faison is an actor who’ve lived in Manhattan for over 40 years) are perfect backdrops for the sketch comedy world they’ve long inhabited.
While I was concerned about the length of the show, and more specifically how such characters, built on improvisation, would fill 100 minutes, my fear proved unfounded thanks to the strength of the joke-telling, the professional performances by Mulaney and Kroll (who have both turned into quality actors), and enough meta-commentary on theatre to keep the show feeling full and polished. It’s a well-crafted, exceptionally well-written show (The New York Times comments on its “novelist’s ear for grotesque detail —apartment building lobbies where everything looks and smells like soup, or diners where the coffee is always gray”). Mulaney and Kroll know how to appeal to their audience, which they refer to as “a collection of comedy nerds, theater dorks, and children whose parents have made a severe miscalculation.”
Despite the strength of the show’s script, the plot stays just loose enough for the comedians to throw in an unplanned joke or two. Plus, there’s an entire segment of their fake talk-show “Too Much Tuna,” in which a guest comedian comes out for an improvised interview. For the Netflix special, it’s Steve Martin, who doesn’t disappoint with his own improvisational humor and seasoned delivery.
Oh, Hello ultimately does not amount to much in terms of a traditional story arc, but therein, too, lies its strength: it’s simply a vehicle for these two long-time comedic partners to showcase their well-crafted personas, a love letter to the world of improv and sketch comedy.
The Conversational Comedian – Sarah Silverman’s A Speck of Dust
Another recently released Netflix comedy special which could not be tonally and structurally further from the production of Oh, Hello is Sarah Silverman’s latest, A Speck of Dust. Those familiar with Silverman’s comedy know that she doesn’t shy away from the profane or grotesque, often crafting her jokes for shock value and a deadpan delivery. While some of those stylings of joke-telling are still evident, A Speck of Dust (her first special since the 2013 We Are Miracles) is much more laid-back and conversational than anything Silverman has done in the past. There’s a rambling nature to her set’s storytelling (her constant digressions and “put a pin in that” shtick becomes a running gag). And there’s more meta-commentary on the quality of the set – she stops after a joke that doesn’t seem to have worked as well to ask, “did that get a laugh? No?”
But after decades in the business, Silverman can get away with meta-commentary, much the way Louis CK or Hannibal Burress can stop and reflect on a joke that falls flat or goes too far, the roughness reminding us that these acts aren’t always polished; they’re built and finessed on the road. It also should be noted that Silverman reveals on Pete Holmes’ You Made It Weird that her recorded Netflix show isn’t her favorite set of the tour, and she wishes her special was from one of her dozens of other shows where the jokes landed better. Knowing this, I was still impressed by her ability to move the show along.
Which isn’t to say there aren’t moments of failure: there’s a particularly awkward audience interaction near the end of the set that’s utterly cringe-worthy, along with plenty of long storytelling set-ups that don’t quite pay off. Lucky for Silverman, she’s a charming story-teller. A Speck of Dust is less punch, for sure, but surer of itself.
above image: "broadway," matthias uhlig / flickr