If comedy really is the best medicine, then what could go wrong when a masked stand-up comedian takes to the streets of New York City to spread his good words during the COVID-19 pandemic to unsuspecting diners, park-goers and pedestrians? Carmen Christopher finds out in his debut comedy special for Peacock!
The Gist: Peacock is venturing into the original comedy special space just as Netflix experiences a lull in its complete domination of said space. When there’s no new stand-up to watch on Netflix, why not click on this weird thing on the top of Peacock’s home page? That’s the thought.
And Christopher is weird. Intentionally so. Christopher has auditioned for Saturday Night Live in the past, and while you might not see him on SNL, the NBCUniversal universe has kept him in close orbit. He has a recurring role on Aidy Bryant’s Shrill on Hulu. His other screen credits include Joe Pera Talks To You, High Maintenance, and At Home with Amy Sedaris; he has written for The Chris Gethard Show as well. Christopher also is currently writing for the upcoming Showtime comedy, The Curse, which will star Nathan Fielder, Benny Safdie, and Emma Stone. If those aren’t bona fides enough to attest to his weirdness, Christopher’s special includes press quotes such as this from The New York Times: “A standout in New York’s weird comedy scene.”
But most people, in or outside New York City, generally want to seek out live comedy on their own time. They do not want to be interrupted while eating, walking or resting by a stranger declaring: “Hey guys. How’s everybody doing?” Because that’s invariably followed by a sales pitch, a plea for money, and/or a show that you hadn’t consented to.
What Comedy Specials Will It Remind You Of?: Christopher’s comedy gambit follows a tradition laid down by others in the SNL universe, from Fred Armisen’s pre-SNL output, to Andy Kaufman, to the short films of Albert Brooks, which similarly mocked the comedy aspects of show business.
Memorable Jokes: Come for the jokes, but you’re not supposed to remember them; just the cringe-inducing moments from the folks who end up in Christopher’s path.
From the cold opening outside Veselka, a notable East Village restaurant and hangout, where diners try not to engage or indulge him. To Union Square, where at least one woman laughs while continuing to stretch in a pause from her exercise routine. To the bar owner or the bookstore employee who ask Christopher to take his act somewhere else; the bar owner, particularly, declares: “You can’t preach in front of my bar. I’m sorry.” That’s funny. Perhaps less so, the diners or passersby who threaten Christopher if he won’t stop.
In a couple of spots, the hidden cameras emerge to interview a couple of the impromptu audience members to gauge their enjoyment. One guy delivers a brutal but honest critique. A young woman in a park with skateboarders offers: “I couldn’t understand most of the jokes. Some of them made me laugh, but not for the reasons that you would want somebody to laugh at the jokes.”
No. I think she understood the assignment perfectly.
Our Take: Because Christopher has been in character the whole time. He’s not out to make a stand-up comedy special insofar as he’s making a farce about the very nature of stand-up comedy in 2020. He certainly captures the weirdness of the lengths comedians went to during the past year to keep their livelihoods alive. Even weirder? He keeps his mask on most of the time, which limits his ability to sell the jokes with facial expressions. Although he does pull down the mask to expose his face for one extended bit about tongue-clicking. And in that bit, he offers another misdirect.
If “Christopher,” the stand-up, actually hoped to be great at his job, then the entire project would be fraught with the danger of failing. But since he’s intentionally looking to puzzle his audience, the laughs are supposed to come from the ridiculousness of the situation rather than the content of the set-ups and punchlines. So his frustrations at being ignored, or his “breakdown” three-fourths of the way into his special, are all a misdirect, too, keeping you wondering where all of this is going to wind up.
He might not ever get past the sidewalk in front of The Comedy Cellar, nor anywhere near the heights of Martin Lawrence’s 1994 film, You So Crazy. But Christopher’s crazy works on another level. As he reflects to the camera crew after one of his ill-received performances in the park: “Could Jerry Seinfeld have done well there? I don’t think so!”
Our Call: STREAM IT. Sometimes you just need to laugh at the ridiculousness of the moment we’re living in. If you’re ready to dive into the weird, then dive on in.
Sean L. McCarthy works the comedy beat for his own digital newspaper, The Comic’s Comic; before that, for actual newspapers. Based in NYC but will travel anywhere for the scoop: Ice cream or news. He also tweets @thecomicscomic and podcasts half-hour episodes with comedians revealing origin stories: The Comic’s Comic Presents Last Things First.
Watch Carmen Christopher: Street Special on Peacock