FX threw everyone a curveball when it launched two new stand-up comedy specials on television last week, the network’s first stab at the genre since releasing a documentary, Hysterical, a year and a half ago. Are these Kate Berlant and Byron Bowers specials a harbinger of more har-hars to come? Or will you get lost even trying to find a stand-up on the FX hub on Hulu thanks to the algorithms?
The essential: Kate Berlant is everywhere right now. Play baseball on Prime Video when restarting A league apart. Playing sketch partners with John Early on Peacock’s Would it kill you to laugh? Play the disparate housewife in don’t worry darling.
His first solo special was actually filmed pre-pandemic in 2019, and if you’re lucky enough to catch Berlant on his currently sold-out Off-Broadway show (Kate) then you can see where she took some of that premise and worked it into a full fledged surreal narrative for the scene. His 2022 stage show and FX special were directed by Bo Burnham.
What comedy specials will this remind you of? : Collaborating with Burnham makes perfect sense, as both comedians love to play with the dynamics of the relationship between performer and audience.
Memorable jokes: As she explains in a bit about where this special got its title: “Life, like this show, is just cinnamon in the wind. Let’s go. And you’re just there cursing the air. There were spices here once.
The 43 minutes (because remember, this was originally edited for TV broadcast with commercial breaks) is full of fleeting moments and thoughts like that, because you never quite know where Berlant is heading until she pivots somewhere else. Sometimes in the middle of a sentence. You’ll be struck by some of these changes, often punctuated by freeze-frame facial expressions. The commercial breaks feature interstitial moments of Berlant behind the scenes, cut to various voiceovers.
Perhaps the most memorable part that resembles a traditional part comes when Berlant wonders how the United States could bring itself to elect a woman president. “I don’t see America just electing a woman in pants,” she concedes. Instead, the first female POTUS would have to be either “pornographically feminized” or “so drastically desexualized” and cold to win our votes. Berlant’s preference? “I want the fridge. I’m dying for the fridge.
Our opinion : Berlant wants to exist like this in the moment, and yet he constantly points out to us that “it’s an inherently false moment”, thanks to the cameras. She pokes fun at the artifice of not just her individual performance, but all performances, show business, and fame. The fact that it is shot by Burnham in black and white, with mirrors reflecting Berlant back to him, only adds to the deconstruction.
His crowd work with the public promotes mockery.
One track, where she asks the audience to scream out emotions for her to show immediately in their faces, turned into something even bigger in her off-Broadway production.
Or there’s the moment when she stops to answer a phone call. It doesn’t matter if the phone rings or if there’s someone on the line.
And yet, there are times when she speaks with an audience member that feels really off-the-cuff and off-the-cuff. So when Berlant gets a line reading wrong later, you might wonder if the mistake was intentional or accidental. How would we ever know at that time? But that’s part of the point!
It is perhaps for the best that we learn later that she is an only child. Or wait, is she? The tension is palpable, and Berlant cuts it wisely and juicily.
Our call: SPREAD IT. Especially if you like the character work Berlant did with John Early or in his previous Netflix showcase of Charactersthen this special is for you.
Sean L. McCarthy Works Comedy Rhythm For His Own Digital Journal, The comic strip; before that, for the actual logs. Based in New York, but will travel anywhere for the scoop: ice cream or news. He also tweets @thecomicscomic and half-hour episode podcasts with comedians revealing origin stories: Comic Book Comic Presents Last Things First.
look Kate Berlant: Cinnamon in the wind on FX on Hulu
New York Post