I adore comedians but then it’s humor that gets me through this life. No question about it. From a young age I realized that if I could just find the funny, my world would not just be alright, it would be better.
My family was funny and we teased each other mercilessly. I’ll never forget when I truly realized that wasn’t the way everyone was in their own families. It was sitting at the dinner table with my Black Irish in-laws. An interesting, highly intelligent group of very funny people yet it was way different from my house. For one thing, nobody really teased anybody in my late husband’s family without express permission. People were touchy. You had to not only know the joke was coming at your expense but you had to be in on telling it. They were all incredible impersonators too. Like seriously, it came so easily to them they were practically savants at it. So everything they did was almost always public performance ready funny.
Not so much from my neck of the woods. At someone’s house in my family you would be the brunt of the joke and you may NEVER see it coming until the laughter is spit spilling out of family spectators mouths, eyes, and ear lobes. People laughing so hard that doing the “I gotta pee” dance was a regular occurrence at social occasions. My cousin’s would snap on and laugh at anything about you. How you walked. How you talked. Who you walked with and talked to. Then how you cried when they were teasing you. And they could do it for hours. It was awesome, done with love, and extremely funny.
Consequently I have a surprising capacity to laugh at almost anything facetious even if it is at my expense. I say almost, only because I do have somewhat refined tastes in what waggishness I can take. For example, my mom preferred ridiculous slapstick humor. Some of her favorite movies were Airplane and The Naked Gun franchise. If she had lived longer she would have been in the theater every time Madea was, may they both rest in peace. My daughter on the other hand, was brought up with both her parent’s droll sensibilities so she fully accepts humor as the only way to survive humanity but as my husband used to remind me often, the girl not only recognized sarcasm at the ripe age of three months old, she could already do a magnificently chilling side eye.
Me? I like the smart comic. It’s why I go for stand up comedians. Comics do, for me — to misquote a friend — impart great knowledge and truth. The weird thing is the knowledge they share is entirely subjective. They tell the truth the way they see it, how it makes them laugh. If they’re lucky you’ll get the joke too. If you’re lucky they’ll get you to laugh at something you had no idea was funny. For the most part a great stand up comedian is not only an amazing and observant story-teller he or she is also an excellent writer, and you know I LOVE writers.
This was a challenging month for me and has been every single day since November 9, 2016, so this week in my latest valiant attempt to keep my spirits up, I decided to spend my time checking out what’s current for comedians. Here’s my take on three recent comedy shows: 2 Dope Queens, Tambourine, & Kid Gorgeous.
2 Dope Queens, namely Jessica Williams (28) and Phoebe Robinson (33) have a popular podcast together. For almost two years it was recorded live to perpetually sold out audiences in my hood at Union Hall before they managed to get a HBO special and tape it on a dope rooftop set in the glorious 3000-seat Kings Theatre in Flatbush, Brooklyn. They had four shows that came on late every Friday night this February and the set up of the show is simple. Jessica and Phoebe come out and do an opening where they riff off each other with a theme. Jessica has a background as a correspondent on The Daily Show and as an actress. Her indie film The Incredible Jessica James is intimate and fun but she carries the whole thing like she’s bringing Cleopatra into Egypt by her lonesome. It’s on Netflix now and worth a look. Phoebe is a mid-western transplant who became a film production company receptionist who then became a stand up comedian who then landed the hosting gig for two podcasts before this special. The woman is not only hardworking, she’s blessed. You can tell these two women like each other and have a similar outlook on life. My daughter paid them a compliment declaring, “They remind me of every black girlfriend I have up at school.” These post racial gal pals who openly talk about their sex lives, lovingly acknowledge the IRC in the audience, and refer to their peers as “Coco Khaleesies”, speak almost entirely in contemporary pop culture jargon and hashtags. It’s funny but occasionally it sent me to the urban dictionary just so I could understand the joke. They would benefit I think from explaining themselves occasionally. The fact that they have to, could be funny, like when they explained to the audience what a Black woman’s edges were. Each show also introduces a diverse (think bagpipes to Bagdad) sincere group of stand up comedians who give us mild to middling to stellar performances. I suspect a lot of these comics are thrown by the sheer size of the audience. Their unevenness is mostly charming but not always riveting. Every show also has a celebrity guest who are often called on to do strange inexplicable tasks. Favorite Joke: Phoebe describing her “British bake-off Bae” applying lotion to her feet and what that has to do with MLK. Most Awkward Guest Spot: Sarah Jessica Parker asking questions about Black women’s hair. I don’t know why hearing White women ask dumb questions about our hair never fails to make me chuckle. Maybe because it’s hair and not rocket science. Favorite Episode: #4 on BLERDS: Black Nerds, every comic is on point including the hosts, and the guest spot with Uzo Aduba playing FMK is hilarious, as well as enlightening.
Tambourine is the newest offering from Chris Rock also on Netflix. I love Chris Rock. He reminds me of that nerdy kid I knew in elementary school who was small for his age, had crooked teeth, and constantly hit on girls completely out of his league because… well,… WTF not. I especially love his stand up acts because he’s clearly a smart, self-educated man with an edge. I vividly remember years ago hearing “Mr. Rock” discussing the benefits of bullet regulations since there were more bullets than guns in this country. I’d only heard that position from one other lone and cerebral politician. And that’s one of the things I like best about this comedian. Whenever he speaks to me it sounds like an intellectual argument no matter how many times he uses the F word. It all just makes sense. In this stand up act it only took three minutes for him to have me laughing out loud, loudly (I love to laugh but I’m not easy). I had many favorite bits but the one that had both me and my daughter rolling on the floor was why the idea of the gun lobby saying, that the gunman in Las Vegas could have been as successful killing one hundred people using a knife, was ridiculous. Hard to believe anything about that is funny, right? The man has talent. It’s strange when I talk about Tambourine with others I’ve heard repeatedly that Chris is not as “edgy”. I couldn’t disagree more. He’s angrier, sadder, and more cynical than he was but I think that actually increases his edginess. The biggest difference between Chris then (his last stand up tour and recording on HBO was a decade ago) and Chris now, is not the Obama years. Perhaps he felt safe enough during that period to do anything he wanted. Because what noticeably changed him was the divorce from his wife of twenty years for cheating. Yep, that’s definitely diminished his inherent cockiness. But never fear, Chris Rock is still smart and funny. Maybe smarter, and funnier now, than ever.
Kid Gorgeous is the live stage rendering from the extremely talented and well produced John Mulaney. Unfortunately this performance isn’t a stand up special on Netflix yet, but it soon will be. Mulaney currently has four highly rated shows on Netflix: two stand up acts, one animated series he stars in with Nick Knoll called Big Mouth and one Broadway show called On Broadway also with Knoll where he plays a wacky, elderly, creative on a variety of legal and illegal medications. Mulaney used to be a writer for Saturday Night Live and it shows. His simple story telling about his hilarious family, his wife, his life growing up and in the present, is intricate, inventive, and incredibly funny. My daughter fell in love with his shows on Netflix and begged for tickets so we went to Radio City Music Hall last Saturday and saw him up close and personal — sort of. Radio City is not an intimate theater. It’s a 6000-seat, Art Deco icon and Mulaney was sold out. I knew from watching his routines that John was a tall, slim, smooth talking, tightly wound Irish guy from Chicago who went a little crazy in college and now was a tea totaling comedian of way more than moderate success. What I didn’t know or expect was what his devoted audience would be like. Let’s just put it this way, I haven’t been confined in a space with that many White people since I went to a Springsteen concert in Meadowlands in the ’90’s. It was noticeable to me and my kid, wet and on-line in the snow waiting to get through the magnetometers that I stuck out like a sore thumb. So much so she started to count POC seated near us the moment we sat down. I remember when I used to do that regularly. It was alarming to see her do it in 2018 but we laughed anyway. Still I highly recommend that people of color check John Mulaney out. Though not given to humor about politics he’s a smart, liberal, and studiously careful comic with a lot to say. My favorite joke was a study in how to eviscerate someone without ever once saying their name. I don’t want to spoil it too much for you so I’ll just say what if someone could accurately describe our country’s current administration as something akin to having a horse loose in a hospital and leave it right there. Don’t wait til this show comes to Netflix, check out his other gigs: New In Town and The Comeback Kid. You won’t be disappointed and we all need a laugh, don’t we?
Lily’s Glossary of acronyms:
- FMK: F..k, Marry, Kill
- IRC: Interracial Couple
- MLK: Martin Luther King
- POC: People of Color
- WTF: Seriously? You need more help than I can give you.