Brad Paisley Plays It Safe in His ‘Comedy Rodeo’ Special

paisleyThe thought of country singer Brad Paisley having his own Netflix standup special  — even one with several actual comics on the bill — naturally brings about mixed feelings. On one hand, Paisley’s music has always employed a fair amount of humor; on “The Cigar Song,” he tells the tale of a criminal who is a bit too clever for his own good, and he’s often commented on relationships and celebrity culture in fairly humorous ways in his work. Still, the fact remains that comedy is not Paisley’s main gig, and he runs the risk of being out of his element. On Brad Paisley’s Comedy Rodeo, which debuted on Netflix this week, the results are mixed. Paisley is funny enough to justify putting himself in the comedy arena, but he’s not much more than that, and one can’t help but feel like the whole thing exists for no other reason than to prove that he’s capable of being funny.

Paisley takes the stage and performs more comedic takes on some of hit songs. He begins with with a leftover track called “Almost Everything” about a girl who initially seems perfect but has her flaws revealed as the song progresses. It’s kind of funny, but it was done better by fellow country singer Blake Shelton in his 2015 Saturday Night Live gig, when he sang a song from the perspective of an old man who becomes increasingly bitter about his longtime marriage. From there, Paisley goes into a version of his 2003 hit “Celebrity” with an added line referencing the Donald Trump/Billy Bush tape, which is also the only vaguely political humor to be found anywhere in the special.

The biggest problem with Brad Paisley’s Comedy Rodeo is that it all just feels a bit edgeless. Paisley has ample charm and surprisingly good comedic timing, but most of his humor relies on tired jokes about men leaving the toilet seat up and Southerners being incestuous. Paisley presents himself as self-deprecating, but he declines to poke any fun at the biggest mistake of his career, the disastrous 2013 track “Accidental Racist,” a collaboration with LL Cool J that attempted to address racial issues but came off as tone-deaf as possible. If Paisley had been willing to mock that black mark in his career, it would have livened things up and shown he can really make fun of himself. Instead, the whole thing just feels too safe.

To a certain extent, that safeness makes its way to the comedians Paisley booked for the event. It’s a solid lineup (Nate Bargatze, Sarah Tiana, John Heffron, Mike E. Winfield, and Jon Reep), but for the most part they stick to inoffensive humor primarily dealing with relationships. In that way, the special seems catered more to an audience of country music fans with a passing interest in comedy rather than full-stop comedy fans, and the material is limited as a result. That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily bad; Tiana in particular shines with an energetic set that recalls a Southern Maria Bamford. Equally amusing is Winfield’s bit about Paisley’s 2002 single “I’m Gonna Miss Her (The Fishing Sing),” where he jokes about Paisley’s “rich people problems.” It’s the rare moment in the show where Paisley actually seems a bit uncomfortable, and that makes it one of the highlights. Had Paisley been willing to leave his comfort zone more often, this would have been a lot more interesting.

You’d expect this to be the part where I say Paisley should go back to his day job, but while his Comedy Rodeo left me mostly underwhelmed, it bears mentioning that Paisley actually has solid comedic instincts. The problem isn’t that he can’t be funny, but rather that he played it too safe. When this special was announced, it was compared to Michael Bolton’s Valentine’s Day Netflix special, where another musician dipped a toe in the comedy world. But while Bolton showed that he was willing to try anything, Paisley sticks to what he knows, and the result feels dull and predictable. If Paisley wants to make comedy a second part-time career, he has the raw chops to make it work. But if he wants to win over comedy nerds he’ll have to give us something more ambitious than this.

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