Welcome to latest chapter in our series, as The Snooty Ushers trawl through the cast expanse of Netflix. Braving the unknown… discovering the hidden gems… risking the dire and the dreadful… all so you don’t have to.
This time, I’ve gone for something a bit different. Since we are now in August and less than a week away from the start of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, I decided to have a look at the comedy specials that are currently on offer. Netflix has produced a bunch of comedy specials itself, and has plenty of stand-up performances from the best American and British comedians. Some of these are taken from DVDs, some are original content for Netflix, but they are all comedy specials. Therefore, this is The Comedy Special Special Edition!
So here we go…
Nick Offerman: American Ham (2014)
And so I start with a Netflix original, from 2014. Nick Offerman has been a supporting character actor for years before smashing it out of the park with the role of Ron Swanson in Parks & Recreation. Swanson was the definition of a breakout star, clearly meant to simply be a background character in support of Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knopp. Nick Offerman so embodied the American male character that he went beyond cult status and internet celebrity. I was aware of “you had me at meat tornado” and “clear alcohols are for rich women on dietsw” well before I actually started watching Parks and Rec. And if you haven’t seen it, you should – jump right in with the season Dave are showing soon, you’ll be borrowing the DVDs in no time.
Anyway, this is a show based around Nick’s 10 Tips for a Prosperous Life. It is a one man show, with a few songs thrown to help the show along. Offerman’s voice wobbles a bit in the first few songs, but they are all funny (including a visit from a lawyer which prevents us from hearing a couple of them).
Nick Offerman ISN’T Ron Swanson. This show ISN’T a Ron Swanson show. But Nick Offerman is still a rugged all-American wood carver who appreciates “the Gorgeous Stack of Curves That is Nick’s Legal Property: Megan Mullally”, so if you understand that, you will enjoy this.
Louis C.K.: Live at The Beacon Theatre (2011)
The first time I became aware of Louis C.K. was as Ricky Gervais’ friend in The Invention of Lying, a film with a lot of famous comedians making cameos. He is, for me, currently America’s best stand up comic. There’s a reason he is will be the last regular guest on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
This show (although only an hour long) is Louis at his best,just telling funny jokes that build into funny stories. The best story revolves around a kid – named Jizanthapus by Louis – at his daughter’s school that he hates. The thing is, he is such a a master of his craft, I have no idea whether this is true or not. Even if it’s not true at all, he hits a universal truth, about how annoying certain types of children are – and makes it so funny!
The best single joke though are about why men think women don’t have the same sexual appetite as men. I won’t spoil it, but it’s so true!
A final thing, although this is on Netfilx now, Louis C.K. actually released this directly through his own website rather than on DVD, reducing the price to only $5, to reduce the amount of piracy. This led to other comedians following suit, and probably what has led to such Netflix acquiring such a large library of comedy specials.
But this is probably one of the best comedy specials out there. It’s just so good.
Aziz Ansari: Buried Alive (2013)
There seems to be a difference between the American and British stand up comedians on Netflix. Whereas the British ones are taken from DVD of shows that they have worked on the road and pieced together from their tours, the American stand-ups however put on “comedy specials”. These are basically comedy monologues, more like a comedy university thesis. A stand up performance that is a 90 minutes of prepared material, one long performance that flows seamlessly from one item to another.
Aziz Ansari got his big break on TV playing Tom Haverford on Parks and Recreation. However, for me the first time I saw him was as the racist fruit stall owner in Flight of the Conchords, who won’t sell an apple to a kiwi. All the time he was working as stand up comedian, and this is from his third nationwide tour.
My one problem with this is that it’s not personal. This performance is based around turning 30 and how his friends’ lives are changing. His friends are having kids. His friends got married too early. Ansari is a very witty guy, but he will have performed exactly the same show with exactly the same delivery every night of his tour, bar a small bit of audience interaction about wedding proposals – something that Ansari does not offer any personal insights. Apart from the last 10 minutes of the show, I don’t feel that he actually cares about anything he is talking about. He talks a bit about arranged marriages, like his parents, but it’s “I read research about arranged marriages”, not exactly any personal insight.
That makes it sound like I am very down about this show. It’s very good. This is a funny 90 minute show that will make you laugh, and some brilliant little tangents, and a really good finale.
Frankie Boyle: The Last Days of Sodom (2012)
From Aziz Ansari to Frankie Boyle, the typical American stand-up to a very typically British stand-up. Frankie Boyle is one of my favourite comics, a long time comedy writer who got his break in front of the camera on Mock The Week, where his acerbic wit caused controversy but was a huge part of the success of the show. Being branded as an offensive comic has for me distracted from Boyle’s sheer comedic skill. He can write a great one liner (the real reason for iPads for example). His act (and books) contain flights of fantasy that rival anything Noel Fielding could think up. And his political comedy is biting – although this show is a bit light on that.
This is taken from Boyle’s third tour, recorded in front of his hometown Glasgow, and it really is like a football team playing at home. In fact, I saw Ricky Hatton win a world title at the MEN Arena in Manchester, and that’s what I would liken Boyle’s performance here to. There is lots of interaction with the audience and lots of abuse directed at them – but I guess you expect that going to one of his shows.
Frankie Boyle is not just a shock comic. He makes jokes because they are funny. As Boyle himself alludes to – if a tabloid journalist calls him a “sick comic” why do the newspapers then print the joke later on in the article? Do you remember the furore about his “sick joke” about the Queen dying just before the Jubilee celebrations that got him “axed from a Comic Relief show”? The joke was “But they wouldn’t have been able to tell us that she’d died. They would have had to hollow out her body and get that guy who plays Gollum to wear it.” That’s not a sick joke about the Queen. It’s a joke about the media and the mechanisms behind the government and Royal Family.
He also has no trouble bringing up his own controversies. Why did he make jokes about Katie Price’s disabled son Harvey? Why did he “pick” on him? Because Katie Price used her son a publicity tool. This isn’t a justification, or an excuse, he made those jokes not to shock, but because he thought they were funny.
This is a great stand-up show, and feels very British compared to the slick American style of Aziz Ansari. Although he now plays big venues, Boyle still feels like he could be performing at a small comedy store. Obviously you mileage may vary with the subject matter, but for me, Frankie Boyle is one of the best stand up comedians in Britain, and this is him at his best.
Stephen Fry: More Fool Me (2014)
And to close out this edition, something rather different. To support the release of his second autobiography, Stephen Fry did a live performance that was shown live in cinemas around the world, and this seems as good a place as any to bring this edition to an end.
Cards on the table, this doesn’t fit in with the other comedy specials here, but I will take any excuse to include anything he has done because I am a huge Stephen Fry fan. Seriously, not just for QI or his role in Blackadder, or the truly excellent A Bit of Fry & Laurie. Or his spot on portrayal of the lead role in Wilde, or his books (including Maob is my Washpot, his first autobiography that includes his time in prison for credit card fraud) or Jeeves and Wooster (which is a treat if you every catch the repeats on itv3 or anywhere). Seriously, I’m a fan of his radio shows from the 80s, Saturday Night Fry with Hugh Laurie, Emma Thompson and Jim Broadbent among others, or Delve Special where he plays an investigative reporter involved in some bizarre cases. And Absolute Power, where he stars alongs John Bird as a government public relations company, which was both a radio series and a TV show. And even Kingdom, the fairly by the numbers Sunday night ITV1 drama he did. But that’s enough of my fawning, you don’t need me to tell you how much of a polymath Fry is.
I mentioned that Frankie Boyle is performing in front of a home crowd – and with a national treasure and global icon like Stephen Fry there is just unconditional love in the room.
Admittedly Fry rambles a bit aimlessly for most of the show (in a totally charming and lovable way), giving little anecdotes about every country the show is being screened in, before becoming more focused when he starts covering the material in his book. He only reads two quick sections from the book, but both are great. Firstly how he met and became friends with Prince Charles (despite their differences) and then a great little story about the Queen Mo- I mean Queen Elizabeth. He also recalls a short Penn Jillette (of Penn and Teller fame) story.
For a big Stephen Fry fan, this was incredibly enjoyable, especially the second half. It was a bit too free form in the beginning, but I can’t actually criticise Stephen Fry can I!
And that’s it for this special edition. All technically stand-up comedy performances, but 5 different types, all very good. I reckon everyone will enjoy Louis C.K.’s show, and can’t recommend it enough. I’m going to Edinburgh for the last week of the Fringe, so I might do an article based on any comedians I see there. Or I might not, who knows? You can check all of our Netflix columns so far by clicking the tab at the top. I hope to be Negotiating Netflix again soon. Until then, thanks for reading!
See you next time.