Episode 583: The Performance of Crescendo

On the Overthinking It Podcast, we talk about “smart” and “dumb” stand-up comedy, considering recent shows by Stewart Lee and Joe Rogan.

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Peter Fenzel and Matthew Wrather step up to the mic and start the swearing as they tackle the stand specials Content Provider by Stewart Lee and Strange Times by Joe Rogan, two remarkably similar shows that couldn’t be more different.

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5 Comments on “Episode 583: The Performance of Crescendo”

  1. John C Member #

    The episode inspired me to download my Netflix history and pull out the stand-up shows. After…let’s say “too much time,” I now have a list of comedians and I’m not sure what I was going to do with this when I was done. Probably should have had a plan or something.
    If I filter out the names I don’t recognize (who probably came from one of the stand-up shows Netflix has), I do see an interesting distinction that’s not “smart vs dumb.” I see a lot of “relatable vs relationship” splits in the comedy.
    That is, I see a bunch comedians who have an audience in mind (age, economic class, probably race, probably politics, and maybe gender) and feed that audience an exaggerated version of their lives. Ellen Degeneres has her most recent comedy special where her “relatability” is the entire act. Louis C.K. used the sexual misconduct accusations against him to significantly change his target demographic. I’d argue that’s a lot of mainstream comedy, even though you can’t really “four quadrants” an observation about much in everyday life.
    The other group assumes you won’t relate to their persona, and their routine starts out drawing you into their world, building a context where you can find the same things funny. Jen Kirkman does this a lot in her specials, though it started to sound like she was finding it less interesting. Maz Jobrani’s act is pretty much literally that the audience can’t relate to what he’s been through. Aparna Nancherla, D.L. Hughley, and especially Hannah Gadsby also come to mind, here. Oh, and Maria Bamford, of course, who’s able to bring the audience into some really surreal jokes without missing a beat.
    Oh, I suppose there are also the Dimitri Martin types (I saw his series go by on the list), who don’t seem to really take either approach, but instead just have a list of jokes they’re going through, without much of a cohesive “act,” but can still mostly make it work through the strength of the material.
    I’m not sure where I’m going with that, and I don’t know if there’s anywhere to go with it, but…I trimmed my Netflix list down from a few thousand rows, and I wanted to have done something with that result, so here we are.


  2. Stokes #

    This was a fascinating discussion, but in re the “only British people can be witty because only British people are worried about being embarrassed,” I’m curious if you’re familiar with a piece of independent cinema called Mean Girls?

    Or even, like, Ross from Friends?

    I expect that the difference you are pointing at is a real difference, but I’m not sure you’ve quite put your finger on it.


    • Three Act Destructure #

      To be fair, isn’t the entire point of Mean Girls that that kind of embarrassment only really exists in high school and it’s unhealthy and needs to be grown out of as part of the natural passage into adulthood?

      Having never seen Friends, I can’t really comment on that one. I did watch Frasier from time to time when I was a kid and I remember embarrassment being pretty critical to that. Maybe it’s a sitcom thing.


  3. Mark Lee OTI Staff #

    I want to take this opportunity to plug the Trevor Noah special, “Son of Patricia,” in particular, the bit about the snake. Go see it; trust me, it’s worth your time. I think it’s “smart” standup by the main criteria of this episode, in that it goes beyond engaging emotionally through shock to engaging intellectually through cleverness and subverting expectation.

    Beyond that, it’s also leveraging a lot of external texts: the Daily Show w/ Jon Stewart, the Daily Show w/ Trevor Noah, and Noah’s book of the same title.

    The whole thing is worth watching, but trust me when I say the snake bit is solid gold, and smart standup at that: https://www.netflix.com/title/80239932


    • John C Member #

      I never really watched The Daily Show, so I didn’t know what to expect going in (and wouldn’t have watched it without the recommendation), but that was great, and impressive that the show is basically two solid twenty-minute stories made entirely out of little jokes with some digressions after each.


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