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My New Book!

Monday, March 28, 2022

March 28, 2022: Stand-Up Studying: Anthony Jeselnik

[For this year’s April Fool’s series, I wanted to highlight one great routine each from a handful of the many wonderful stand-up comedians doing their thing these days—in case, y’know, you’re (like me) looking to move on from a problematic fave. Add your faves, present and past, in comments!]

This might come as a surprise to anyone who knows me to be the congenital optimist that I am—a critical optimist to be sure, but nonetheless—but I have a serious soft spot for very dark humor, the darker the better. Partly that might be the irresistible appeal of opposites (they do, as Paula Abdul and MC Skat Kat knew all too well, attract). But I’d say it’s also and especially my sense that underneath most dark humor—and definitely the best dark humor—is a deep sweetness, a real compassion and care for the world, if one perhaps masked in humor because of the equally real concurrent fear of being hurt by that world.

I see all of that in the best darkly humorous comic—and quite simply one of the very best comics period—working today, Anthony Jeselnik. Jeselnik’s stock-and-trade is writing short jokes that offer darkly comic twists on audience expectations, sometimes in standalone singularity, sometimes as part of a long series (I defy anyone not to crack up at the dropping babies and murder-suicide series in his most recent special, Fire in the Maternity Ward [2019]). If there’s a sweetness underlying those jokes, I would have to agree with anyone who’d argue that it’s buried pretty deep.

But each of Jeselnik’s specials to date has ended with a long set-piece, one that still relies on a number of individual jokes of that ilk but that adds up to something more—and, I believe, something more clearly thoughtful and sweet (if still dark as fuck). And the set-piece that ends Fire, a 15-minute long “very true” story about the time he drove a friend to get an abortion (I apologize for linking to The Federalist, but that’s the clearest write-up of this specific set-piece I can find; click through at your own risk), is both a stunning dark humor tour-de-force and, again, a profoundly sweet representation of friendship, care, and love. It’s maybe the best single performance by maybe our best contemporary comic, and that ain’t no joke.

Next stand-up fave tomorrow,


PS. What do you think? Takes on Jeselnik and/or other faves you’d share?

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