It seems like stand-up comedy has never been of more interest in our culture. Shows like Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee have shined a light on the art of stand-up, while autobiographies from comedians and Saturday Night Live writers have revealed how difficult and strange a job it can be. It seems like there’s a new stand-up special coming out nearly every week from HBO or Netflix.
It’s an art form I’ve always been interested in, which is why Drew Michael’s special, out August 25th, is particularly fascinating. This stand-up has no audience. It has edited and scripted parts. It has a moody visual style that’s like an art exhibit at your local contemporary art museum. It’s a stand-up comedy that is at once introspective and yet manipulative of your own emotions as you attempt to understand Michael’s spoken word approach. If you’re a comedy connoisseur, it’s a special you can’t avoid because it covers new ground.
Michael, an Saturday Night Live alum who has recorded a stand-up special for the cable series “The Half Hour,” as well as the stand-up albums “Lovely” and “Funny to Death,” has approached this stand-up special like a spoken word art piece. The special, which was directed by Jerrod Carmichael, is split up with scenes of Michael speaking directly to the camera and extreme close-ups on actress Suki Waterhouse speaking to Michael over the phone, presumably as Michael’s girlfriend. It’s a stand-up special like no other and it’s one that may require some patience and particularly focused attention from the audience, but if you put in the work it can be hugely rewarding.
Going in blind was an interesting experience since it slowly builds on itself drawing you in, showing Michael’s vulnerability in ways that are realistic, and also raw. The subtle lighting behind Michael and Waterhouse gives the impression we are witnessing the real emotions of the anecdotes and scenes. It helps draw you in, but also makes you question what is being said.
Speaking of which, Michael is quite good at pushing the boundaries of inappropriate humor. He does so by bringing you into his own mind and point of view, so that when he drops an incest joke or a joke about suicide, you aren’t completely offended since you’re seeing it from his perspective. Michael has a way of pulling you into a way of thinking that is twisted and uncomfortable that you’d never think about, but once he takes you there he twists a joke in that’ll make you laugh. Some might be offended, but the jokes seem to put you in his headspace so it’s less disturbing and more a sharing of ideas with Michael himself.
The vignettes with Waterhouse pepper the stand-up scenes with intimacy. These scenes feel genuine, but also unique in how they draw you into common relationship moments we’ve all had. She speaks to the camera as if we’re Michael (in a way reminiscent of FaceTime) while we hear Michael talking back to her which sounds like he’s talking on the phone.
As a comedy, I am more than certain many will find this approach off-putting and strange. It’s definitely taking chances, which is why it’s so exciting for someone like me who has seen so much stand-up comedy. I will say though this is more spoken word than comedy with many jokes requiring a minute or more to be set up. This isn’t conventional joke telling in the slightest, but something new and different. If you give it a chance you may just see the ingenuity of it all.