My Two Favorite Comedians
Spoiler alert. If you ever wanted to watch Kathleen Madigan’s Bothering Jesus or Wanda Sykes Netflix special, please do before you read this.
I love comedy on TV. I’ve been watching standup on Netflix, the Jerry Seinfeld comedian-only interview show Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, as well as the new David Letterman interview show My Next Guest Needs No Introduction. Mr. Letterman interviews everybody. Barak Obama, Kevin Durant, Billie Eilish, Lizzo. He seemed about to slip into a coma at one point hanging out in Lizzo’s home studio, but with Kevin Durant he was a 12-year-old seeing his hero up close and personal. I watched all of Mike Birbiglia, whose comedic routines apparently are supporting a family of six. I love Lynne Koplitz and Amy Schmuer, both of whom take on interpersonal and cultural tropes with acuity and outrageous points of view. Sara Silverman is another really smart comedian with “just the right amount of pretentious personality on top of it”. Jim Gaffigan, Jim Carrey (who is espousing silent meditation retreats to Jerry Seinfeld, but really, why bother?). They’re all so great. Have you seen Graham Norton? Or Kenya Barris?
The best of the bunch, in my humble opinion, is Kathleen Madigan. I went to see her at the Lincoln Center in Fort Collins, and I could hardly contain myself she was so funny. Kathleen Madigan makes me fall apart at the seams, genially ranting about the Catholic Church vis a vis her own upbringing. The title of her Netflix special is Bothering Jesus, taken from a bit about all the saints and angels who, as a Catholic, form her personal pantheon. The resulting dialogues with her parents and the nuns at school are so vivid and scorching you fear for her relationships, if it weren’t for the amiable delivery and razor comic timing.
At one point she asks herself and the audience if our parents, who are about the same age as President Biden, would make a good president. She asks her father if he’d take on the Presidency. He father responds, after a judicious pause, “Could we do it together? Usually between the two of us we can figure things out.” That political commentary is so far from the weeping near-hysteria of the liberal press, and the endless prognosticating/pontificating of journalists altogether, it does a heart good.
She and Wanda Sykes take top honors from me.
Wanda Sykes does a brilliantly funny routine about Donald Trump having toilet paper on his shoe as he boards Airforce One. “You know they don’t respect him. You know how I know? . . . because nobody tells him.” Listening to her talk about her French wife and two children, you feel like you’re looking through the wrong end of a telescope. The love for her family comes through loud and clear, but the clarity and precision of her observation defies her ties to them. I wonder what it costs to psychically and emotionally distance yourself from the ones you love, as she does.
Jerry Seinfeld solves the conundrum of a comic’s proximity to their subjects by proclaiming that nothing he says means anything. If it gets a laugh, it’s going in the routine. But I doubt his professed heartlessness would fly for a woman in her personal life. Besides, doesn’t everybody want to tell their friends and family what they really think of them? And don’t family bonds normally preclude it? You can say, comedians aren’t normal, but I’d rather think you can get away with anything if it’s funny enough.