It always amazes me that so many people want to get into stand-up comedy. I know actors who insist on doing it, telling rather lame jokes about online dating. Recently I realized that a professional dancer, who seemed to have dropped off the radar, was actually doing stand-up regularly. The act is about smoking too much weed, it seems.
It takes courage to do it, of course. Also, a certain amount of narcissism. Most stand-up comics – and if Netflix is any guide, there are millions of them – from the tryers to the totally famous, aren’t self-aware.
Bill Burr: Live at Red Rocks offers us one who is utterly self-aware and evolving. Burr tends to divide people. He began with the persona of a guy existing entirely between irascible and very angry. He tended to rant and still does, but now turns jokes inside out to the point where the ending is unpredictable.
Mainly, he’s looking for hypocrisy, which abounds more than usual these days. In a bit he has honed and varied for some years now, he’s angry that outrage exists about things people said years ago. He cites John Wayne and Sean Connery as guys who, if you look up statements they made decades ago, look like racists or seem sexist. So, they are condemned. As if those who condemn didn’t do and say dumb things in their youth or before it was unacceptable to say certain things.
There are segments that will make viewers uncomfortable. In the context of Wayne and Connery, he points out that Coco Chanel was cozy with the Nazis and probably spied for them. Yet Chanel isn’t disowned or condemned today. At the same time, he takes aim at feminists who complain that there isn’t enough attention paid to women’s sports when, in fact, few women make the effort to attend or watch women’s sports. He has a lot to say about the hypocrisy of some women, and that’s unlikely to gain him new fans, but he does weigh in on some issues that need to be discussed rather than be the subject of sloganeering.
There’s a certain amount of material too about his own hypocrisy. He talks about trying to do good deeds, like helping homeless people. And then he acknowledges with a certain amount of self-loathing, that even when he’s trying to be good, he’s repelled.
There are segments that aren’t funny at all until Burr undermines expectations and makes the audience vaguely uncomfortable with their own inability to laugh at themselves. He’s an interesting comedian to watch right now, a man in his mid-50s able to laugh about his youth and his relationship with his father. He is self-deprecating, while others aim to shock and find glory in the childish act of being abrasive. His temper has cooled and he’s aiming to be reasonable and open-minded, while aware that some of his audience don’t want to go there with him. He’s transcended something that others can’t.
Cristela Alonzo: Middle Classy (streams Netflix) is a different kettle of comedy. Much more conventional, Alonzo smiles throughout. She’s introduced on stage by member of Congress Joaquin Castro, which tells you the special is about being poor and Mexican-American. The Texan comedian is already a heroine of sorts, being the first Latina to create, produce, write and star in her own American series. The sitcom called Cristela was on ABC for a full season in 2014-2015 and then cancelled.
What happens here is mostly observational humour and personal stories about her health and her body that are rather sweet and engaging, rueful instead of angry or outraged. What makes her angry is ordinary day-to-day issues, such as the exploitation of farm workers. Alonzo is that rare thing, an old-fashioned progressive, an advocate for the downtrodden and able to find humour rather than fury in her accounts of her occasional encounters with the police. It’s a relaxed comedy set, unlikely to alienate anyone but certain to make a lot of people smile.
Not long ago, when James Corden announced he would be leaving as host of his late-night show on CBS, Alonzo made it clear she wouldn’t mind trying out for that job. She would be good at it, being amiable, chatty and, unlike Bill Burr, keeping the comedy uncomplicated.
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