March 2017’s Best Standup Specials: Kurt Braunohler, Sasheer Zamata, and More
March was a big month for standup specials, specials that ran the gamut from “everybody’s talking about it” to “why isn’t everyone talking about it?” In case you missed it, here’s a rundown of what dropped last month:
Kurt Braunohler – Trust Me (Comedy Central)
Braunohler’s first full-length Comedy Central special combines his usual absurd humor with an over-arching meditation on how he – and basically all straight, white, men – shouldn’t be trusted. The premise isn’t as pandering as it sounds and points to a new evolution in his standup. As he told us, “When you’ve been doing it for ten years and you’ve figured out that you can make people laugh it starts to feel a little empty at the end of the night. Great, I made a lot of people laugh. But was it just all surface laughs? I’m trying to find a way to get a deeper, better laugh. I’m not claiming that I’ve done this yet, but it’s one of my goals. I want to get to a place that’s not just silly haha, but actually has a reason for being funny.”
Amy Schumer – The Leather Special (Netflix)
In her first Netflix hour, Schumer doubles down on raunch and bravado. The title is a nod to comics like Eddie Murphy and Andrew Dice Clay, who upon reaching the upper echelons of comedy fame, wear leather outfits for their specials, a decision that she admits to regretting. Schumer is now an official comedy celebrity, a status level that has opened her up to both controversy and criticism. Whether you like Schumer’s comedy or not, there’s no denying that women in comedy are fighting an unusual fight, as was evidenced by the alt-right r/The_Donald subreddit’s organized attack on The Leather Special‘s Netflix reviews.
Fahim Anwar – There’s No Business Like Show Business (Seeso)
Former Boeing aerospace engineer Fahim Anwar quit his steady day job to pursue comedy (Late Night with Seth Meyers, Conan) and acting (Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, The Carmichael Show) full-time. In his first special (available now on Seeso) Anwar introduces himself to a broader audience with bits on family, friends, and his full-time minority status: “Being a minority is like having an away jersey you can never take off.” If you don’t have Seeso, find a promo code, get the free trial, and check this one out.
Jerrod Carmichael – 8 (HBO)
For his second HBO special, Carmichael performs in the round to a dapper crowd at New York City’s Masonic Hall. Curiosity was piqued after the taping due largely in part to Interrobang columnist Jeffrey Gurian’s report that the night was plagued with delays and an odd performance from Carmichael. But the finished product, directed by Bo Burnham, shows Carmichael in control, contemplative, and not afraid to go deep. It’s an engaging and fascinating portrait of a young rising star at an interesting point in his career.
Jim Norton – Mouthful of Shame (Netflix)
Moving from EPIX to Netflix, Norton’s Mouthful of Shame marks his fifth hour-long special. Despite his graphic, unhinged delivery he seems like the kind of person who figured out how to beat their bullies to the punch by making fun of themselves first. He’s open and honest about where he lands on the sexuality spectrum, an AIDS scare involving Charlie Sheen, and his affinity for trans women. His material will offend some, but begs the question: is it punching down if you’ve already pummeled yourself to the bottom?
Dave Chappelle – Deep in the Heart of Texas + The Age of Spin (Netflix)
2017’s most anticipated and talked about specials thus far are from Chappelle, who released both simultaneously on Netflix. Contained within are shining reminders of what has always made Chappelle great: his masterful storytelling, confident rhythm, signature cadence, and hilarious commitment to premise. But some fans seemed disappointed that he hasn’t matured with the times, finding his takes on Cosby, the LGBT community, and the Flint water crisis insensitive. But without pushing boundaries and staying true to his worldview, there would be no Chappelle as we know him. Like it or not, these two specials are a reminder that comedy should be challenging, subversive, and honest, even if it isn’t always pretty.
Jo Koy – Live from Seattle (Netflix)
After two Comedy Central specials Koy made his Netflix debut with a new hour recorded in his home state of Washington. The move to Netflix was a good one for Jo, as he told us, “I was heavily, creatively involved, from the logo, to the lighting of the room, to selecting the venue, to selling the tickets, and promoting it. I’m seeing my blood, sweat, and tears come to life. It makes me love this special even more. That’s what I love about working with Netflix. Creatively they let you do what you want to do.”
Sasheer Zamata – Pizza Mind (Seeso)
Rounding out a month of big releases, Zamata’s first-ever special (available now on Seeso) is both creative and adventurous. Her experience as an SNL repertory player is evident, as Pizza Mind goes beyond traditional standup specials to include sketch, animation, and a musical number. Zamata doesn’t shy away from social and political commentary and isn’t afraid to challenge her audiences’ viewpoints: “I’d rather you squirm and think about something you’ve never thought about before than be perfectly comfortable and just be like, ‘Wow, what an easy show!’”