If you want to find a joke about what’s going on in politics on any particular day, there are at least half a dozen late night shows you could turn to, or you could scroll through your social media timelines, or even hear one from your neighbor. In 2018, it’s much, much harder to avoid political jokes than it is to find them. So when you’re settling in for a stress-free evening with the latest stand-up comedy special on Netflix, or the streaming platform of your choice, the jokes should trend much more personal, observational, and even much more mundane than anything taking place near the zoo that is the White House. Recently, a slew of comedians have not only picked up on this, but fully succeeded in presenting some of the best work of their careers abiding by this rule.
The reason why John Mulaney’s Kid Gorgeous at Radio City is so appealing to such a wide audience is that he chose to go personal over political. The one half-exception is his horse in a hospital joke about Trump, but even that isn’t getting into specifics. It’s more about the feeling of politics right now, instead of joking about actual decisions or quotes. Where Mulaney does get into specifics is when he discusses childhood memories, including special guest speaker at his elementary school assemblies, J.J. Bittenbinder, who has become quite the internet celebrity in just the past few weeks, based on the enthusiasm and connection viewers felt to this story. It’s personal and universal at the same time, and that’s what’s going to appeal to audiences that want to escape, especially back to a much simpler time in their own lives. Articulating the feelings and the characters that came along with grade school assemblies is so comforting and comedic because, unlike political views, it is something that the majority of Americans share and relate to. It will never matter who the leader of the country is for this joke to be funny. Plus, I’d much rather hear jokes about Petunia over the President any day.
James Acaster, a British comedian, took a similar approach with his four comedy specials Repertoire, now on Netflix. He made one absolutely brilliant joke comparing Brexit and tea, just about as British as you can get, and let the rest of the special go completely absurd while weaving seemingly simple jokes into something much more complex and incredibly smart. It’s all a bit ridiculous, but if you watch the specials 10 years from now, the comedy will still stand. It’s not specific to the time or events occurring right now, and will provide chuckles for years to come. Plus, some of the jokes he makes using physical comedy are both impressive and surely inspiring for future generations of comedians.
The same goes for Ali Wong’s latest and brilliant special, Hard Knock Wife. She capitalized on the success of her last special, Baby Cobra, and decided to film this one while quite visibly pregnant as well, focusing her routine on the same material that made her previous special a surprise hit: a lot of lady stuff. From pregnancy to mom life to vaginas to giving blow jobs, the themes Wong touches on will be relatable to all kinds of women: those who have been through it, those who have heard the horror stories, and those who never want to go anywhere near it. Women having babies and working hard to balance that with their career, marriage, and personal selves is a theme that isn’t going anywhere in the near future. The humor that Wong is able to bring to these subjects is fresh and shocking and ultimately endlessly funny. I’d bet lots of money that her views on this President and all that’s come along with him are also pretty LOL-inducing. But I’ve never heard another comic go into such great detail about labia before (or the sounds that escape them, for that matter), and so I’m glad Wong went with such a revolutionary and unique topic over, you know, the same one everyone else is joking about non-stop.
Yes, we as humans look to humor to help us understand and face less than desirable situations, and some of the most inventive and redundant humor has been presented in the last couple years or so when it comes to the current political climate. Oftentimes a joke made at 11:35pm on a late night show is stale by the time we wake up the next morning, replaced with some new scandal, outrage, or bizarre headlines. So a comedy special that is taped anywhere from 3-12 months before its release to the public runs the risk of being super outdated and simply late to the party. However, childbirth, marriage, pet ownership, childhood memories, and even the weirdness of lip skin, well, those topics won’t be carried away in a million news cycles. They’re not only a safe bet, they’re a way of highlighting our best comedians, the ones who can still discover new, surprising, and enlightening ways of tackling those subjects. Going topical equals trouble; if you want to make audiences at home laugh for years (and Presidents) to come, the real professional stand-ups know to keep it personal.
Where to watch Ali Wong: Hard Knock Wife