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Review: The Hits, The Misses & Behind-The-Scenes Drama at Netflix Is A Joke Fest

By Aditya Mani Jha 22 June 2022

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Between 28 April and 8 May this year at the Hollywood Palladium in Los Angeles, Netflix organised the inaugural edition of its very own comedy festival called Netflix Is A Joke: The Festival. For the past few weeks, Netflix has been uploading specials that were shot at this festival, leading up to the 23 June drop of a ‘Best of the Fest’ highlights reel on the streaming platform.

In no particular order, here are mini-reviews of some of these specials—the hits, the misses and even some behind-the-scenes action that we’ve learned about since the specials released.

Amy Schumer Presents: Parental Advisory

These ‘XYZ Presents ___’ shows, wherein a famous comedian curates and introduces a lineup of lesser-known names, formed the bulk of the festival. Amy Schumer’s special was easily the weakest and perhaps the only one where the famous comedian is visibly not-as-good as the unsung young comics. Schumer’s COVID-19 jokes were terrible, but her parenting jokes (including one about her son’s name which is sure to cost him thousands of dollars in future therapy bills) were somehow even worse.

Our advice is to skip to the part where Jaye McBride—a very funny trans woman—delivers a brilliant 8-10 minute routine about transitioning and gender dysphoria.

Pete Davidson Presents: The Best Friends

While still very much a work in progress, Pete Davidson has been showing rapid improvement as a stand-up comedian and here, too, his opening 5-minute segment encompassed an impressive range of subjects—AIDS, the 90s ‘gay panic’, the etiquette of sneakers and, of course, Kanye West.

The lineup he put together here was also more than adequate. Jordan Rock, Neko White and Carly Aquilino were all funny but my favorite was Giulio Gallarotti, whom you might remember from his cameo in the comedy-drama series Ramy. Gallarotti’s routine about gaining weight—and discovering this fact on video—was funny in an oddball way, like something out of a mid-2000s Judd Apatow movie (“I just feel like as a guy, you don’t want your descriptive word to be ‘voluptuous’”).

Snoop Dogg’s F*cn Around Comedy Special

Far be it from me to offer notes on this one. For elder millennials, hip-hop superstar Snoop Dogg is representative of a certain brand of pre-Internet celebrity that’s getting increasingly rare these days: inscrutable, chaotic, a little unhinged, quite unlikely to bombard us with details of their organic breakfast on Instagram.

The performers—Katt Williams, DeRay Davis, Melanie Comarcho, Donnell Rawlings and Mike Epps—were good, but it’s really their banter with Snoop that’s the draw here. Not strictly a comedy show, this. It’s more like ‘easy viewing’ but with Snoop and his obligatory mushroom cloud of smoke running the show, who’s complaining?

Dirty Daddy: A Tribute to Bob Saget

The Bob Saget tribute was one of the best and most enjoyable parts of the festival, no two ways about it. I can tell you about John Stamos (Saget’s longtime friend and Uncle Jessie from Full House) cracking the dirtiest of jokes amidst a sea of poignant moments, I can tell you about all of the sincere and beautiful moments that happened during the hour-long special, including a low-key virtuosic performance by John Mayer. “Dick jokes and prayers” was the dominant vibe of the evening, as Stamos noted.  

But really, the chief draw here was Jim fucking Carrey just… being himself on stage for 60 minutes straight. As far older critics than myself will tell you, that’s funnier than dozens of seasoned comedians deploying their best material.

Chris Rock was moved enough to say, “I think it’s sad that the motherfucker (Saget) had to die to get Jim Carrey back on stage. If this is the only way we’re going to see you perform I’m gonna kill Eddie Murphy next week.”

Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin: Ladies Night Live

Once again, zero notes on this perfect show. Fonda and Tomlin—octogenarian legends of stage and screen—ruled the stage with their flawless repartee and their sharp observations on women in Hollywood and stand-up comedy. Grace and Frankie, their laugh-riot Netflix show, came to a close recently after seven brilliant seasons and the duo’s fellow cast members also made an appearance here, to thunderous applause.

Iliza Shlesinger, Tracey Ashley and Margaret Cho were all very funny and a double act by Rachel Bloom and Elliot Glazer brought the house down.  

Stand Out: An LGBTQ+ Celebration

Minute for minute, this was probably the best show in the festival from a strictly comedic point of view. Where to even begin? Margaret Cho was even funnier here than she was at the Tomlin/Fonda event, as she launched into a hilarious routine about how she has “resting dyke face” (“I know that face, I have sat on that face”). Tracie Mattel, from season 2 of the show Daniel’s Song Race (a cross between Eurovision and RuPaul’s Drag Race), sang a savagely funny song called ‘Hey Rich People’.

“Hey rich people
Don’t you hate it when
the hooker turns out to be 17
(pretty sure I paid for 16!)”

Tig Notaro was fabulous, as were Sam Jay and Joel Kim Booster, but the show-stealer was Eddie Izzard, who was introduced via a beautiful pre-recorded video message by Stephen Fry. Izzard’s set was expansive, ambitious (“let’s talk about everything that ever happened, if we’ve got the time!”), sardonic (“well done for still believing in God after World War II”) and even straight-up tear-jerking at times (“I believe in humanity, I believe there’s more goodwill than ill will in the world”).

She imitated dogs and dinosaurs, nurses and Nazis. At this point in her career, she’s at the height of her powers and when she’s onstage it feels nothing is ever out of reach, really.

The only sour note for me came after I watched the show. On Twitter, somebody who was ushering at the venue on the evening tweeted that Netflix had edited out all the jokes in support of the trans community—that’s poor form from Netflix, especially during Pride Month, considering how pigheaded they have been in their support of Dave Chappelle’s many, many transphobic jokes.  

Dear Netflix, next time please don’t pull shit like this and for God’s sake, give Izzard and the other talented queer comics more than 4-5 minutes apiece.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Aditya Mani Jha

Aditya Mani Jha is a Delhi-based independent writer and journalist. He’s currently working on his first book of non-fiction, a collection of essays on Indian comics and graphic novels.

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