Comedians haven’t always had the most success in making the transition from podcasts to the standup comedy stage. Just look at Brendan Schaub, the host of popular podcasts The Fighter & The Kid and Golden Hour, whose attempt at comedy resulted in two of the lowest-rated comedy specials on IMDb. This Past Weekend‘s Theo Von had a similarly lacklustre—if less hated—comedy special in Regular People. So it’s safe to say that fans of Andrew Santino, host of the successful comedy podcasts Whiskey Ginger and Bad Friends (co-hosted by Bobby Lee), had their guards up when he announced his Netflix special Cheeseburger, which dropped on 10 January.
I’m here to tell those fans they don’t need to worry. Don’t get me wrong, this is not the most groundbreaking or thought-provoking comedy special you’ll ever see. But as the name suggests, Cheeseburger is an appetising hour of comedy: it may occasionally be a little greasy, you eat it with a side order of guilt, but it definitely hits the spot.
Right off the bat Santino addresses the pandemic and the last two years but doesn’t linger on the topic for too long. Kudos to him because do we really want more jokes about Zoom meetings and Instagram reels? I think not. Santino starts off by playing to his strengths and diving straight into his first anecdote of the hour. His knack for painting vivid pictures with his words shines through here. He levels up the experience with his vocal chops which include effortlessly switching accents and an assortment of anthropomorphic voices (I mean, how many people can actually make you picture a vibrator taking a walk?)
Santino discusses his prostate exam with a straight face and in great unfiltered detail, something he’s known for on his podcasts. He uses this graphic tale of his visit to the doctor as the opportunity to draw parallels and highlight some of the more uncomfortable aspects of dating for women. If you’ve ever been on the classic low-effort, straight-to-the-point Tinder date which ends in a walk of shame, you’ll relate to this.
We also get to see him lean into his edgy side with a bit that questions Jesus’ sexuality. Once again, Santino’s delivery and performance elevate a rather stale or juvenile premise. Despite the controversial subject matter, he didn’t seem worried about beers being hurled at him or someone attacking him on stage. It might have something to do with the left-leaning Denver crowd he’s performing for. Jesus’ physique, his drink of preference (I mean, I agree beer would’ve been a better choice) and his choice of miracles are all up for scrutiny. Here’s a fun bit of trivia. Santino played a fictionalised version of Bill Hicks on the show I’m Dying Up Here. Bill Hicks’ performance on Late Night with David Letterman never aired because of a certain Jesus joke he made. Is there a connection there? I think so.
While there were a lot of redeeming bits in the special, it would be fair to say that some jokes just didn’t hold up. Santino makes a valiant attempt at looking at climate change through a comedic lens but it’s not backed by anything substantial. He gets the laughs in when he’s playing the contrarian, calculating the odds for a straw to get lodged in a sea turtle’s nostrils. “Show me the shells,” he says. But it quickly devolves into a profoundly lazy “what can we really do about it?” argument.
We get some more political comedy as he takes aim at Joe Biden and Donald Trump. However, he has nothing to say that we haven’t heard before. It’s all about being stuck between a rock and a hard place. “Admit that you got tricked,” he says as he points out their incompetence.
Santino does eventually find his ground though. After destroying Trump’s “Mexicans are lazy criminals” argument he lets the chaotic-good part of his brain take over. Why build a lousy wall? Imagine the American Ninja Warrior (an American sports entertainment reality show) obstacle course track at the border. This is what Santino and his friends do best on their podcasts. Take an outlandish scenario and just run with it. But the routine could have had a better pay-off had he explored this premise with more sincerity. It’s this oscillation between good commentary and half-baked ideas that keeps Cheeseburger from hitting the highs it potentially could have.
He does try something interesting towards the end of the special while describing the give-take relationship that exists between performers and their audience. Touching upon Dave Chappelle’s controversial comments about the LGBTQ+ community, Santino treads the fine line without really choosing a side. Instead, he tries to make a larger point about context and how important it is to any form of comedy. He does this by telling us a completely fabricated “personal story”, pointing out how our biases always creep in. “You constructed it in your mind,” he screams at the audience after revealing the last 10 minutes were all a lie. “You made it taste how you wanted it to f*cking taste.” It’s these moments of creativity and execution that we would like to see more of from the comedian.
To sum things up, Cheeseburger is a decent meal but you’re not going to go out of your way to enjoy it a second time. Santino is not out to change anybody’s worldview or prove a larger point. It’s just an hour of comedy that you can enjoy with a cold one. He’s not here to make a legacy for himself or be regarded as a GOAT. He just wants to spread some laughs while he’s around. And that’s precisely what he achieved here.