I feel like my ability to partake in pop culture has drastically diminished over the last few months, and that is directly because of having a baby. Where in the past I was able to watch a number of TV shows and keep up with what was happening at a time (I am now agog at my previous abilities), if I am able to watch more than 1 hour of television each evening, it is a wild and crazy night. But it turns out that time restraint is the exact amount of time that the average comedy special lasts. And this year, I’ve been able to watch three that I really enjoyed/was impressed by. As it turns out, all of the specials that I watched were done by women, and they were all on Netflix. The best part about all of these special is that they are within that maximum time I can devote to a program, and that’s it. I don’t need to watch a whole season – I can watch a special, and immediately have something to contribute when my non-child-having (or big-kid having) friends talk about what’s interesting and current in pop culture. Being able to say – “Why, yes, I did see that special” is the kind of thing that makes you feel proud, especially when so often you can’t say that about the new thing.
The first was one I watched while I was still home on maternity leave with B, and it was Ali Wong: Hard Knock Wife. This is Ali’s second special with Netflix, and this one was so good and spoke to me on so many levels that I went back and watched her first one (Baby Cobra) as well. In both, she is very pregnant, which – even as someone who doesn’t keep up with the latest happenings – I can tell you is unusual in comedy. Not only that, but she doesn’t hold back in the way that might be expected of a) a woman who b) is tiny and Asian and c) massively pregnant. But men don’t ever have to worry about “should I hold back because I don’t fit in the mold that lets me say whatever I want?”, so Ali doesn’t either, and it is liberating and hilarious and AWESOME. You just find yourself feeling joy at her jokes because they are so dirty. After watching her specials, I was referred to this article about how she structures her stand-up specials, and was so impressed. The woman knows how to write and perform, and obviously people are paying attention, since she was (still is?) on the staff at Fresh Off the Boat, and is a cast member of American Housewife.
I just felt such a connection with many of the things that Ali had to say in this special about getting older and having a baby. I often found myself chuckling as I watched if only because the baby in my arms at the moment I was watching had done the same things as Ali’s baby, or I had felt the same thing as her. Finding a comedian whose show spoke to my soul in that tough time of early motherhood was uplifting.
The second comedy special I watched was Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette. Yes, it was very funny, but at the same time, it wasn’t. She delves deeply into the difficulties of being gay in small-town Tasmania, and also of not being the kind of gay person that the world expects. Yes, the special is funny at times, but it’s also just BLISTERING about how awful people truly still are. But it also fits into this larger trend of comedians whose humor isn’t all that funny. I think of people like John Oliver, whose show “Last Week Tonight” I adore, because while it does make me laugh occasionally, it’s also meant to provoke and make me think harder about a topic that I wasn’t aware of. And that’s what Hannah does in this special – we may think that as a society that because we have more rights for gay, lesbian and queer people that we deserve a pat on the back. But the truth is that the traumas those persons may have suffered in the past doesn’t just magically disappear, and despite there being legal protections, it doesn’t mean that those who may bully or harass or attack are actually going to be stopped. She is shining a light on an area that we decided was finished, and saying, “No – this is actually something that’s still a work in progress. Do better.” And she’s saying it eloquently, and in a way that makes you stop and think harder. This special deserves every ounce of praise it’s getting.
And finally, we have a special that feels more standard. Iliza Shlesinger is a pretty white girl who makes fun of herself, so it feels “basic” compared to the others that I’ve mentioned. But that doesn’t stop it from being feminist, funny, and speaking directly to my soul because we are pretty much the same age. So many of the jokes and references (heck – the title even) are ones that I have a lot of memories of, or hold a specific place in my own experience. It doesn’t hurt that Iliza seems to have no fear about looking or sounding weird. The number of strange voices that she does in imitation of things or people is amazing, and she has an ability to hold her body in different ways to distract you from the fact that she’s very pretty. So hats off to Iliza – it’s a great accomplishment, and a thoroughly enjoyable hour.
So that’s what I’ve watched. I’m open to watching more specials, and I’d love to get your recommendations. So if you’ve seen a comedy special recently (On HBO, Comedy Central, Netflix, etc.) that you think I should watch, or would enjoy – please let me know. Because it turns out that an hour of laughing your ass off is probably the best use of my pop culture time as a new mom.