3 Sharp Stand-Up Specials to Entertain You This Holiday Weekend


Bathed in moody lighting beneath three grand chandeliers, the comic Hannah Einbinder performs her jokes the way models strike poses: with dramatic pauses and flirtatious flourishes, always alert to the camera. Whereas the fictional comedy writer she plays in “Hacks” feels palpably real, her stand-up persona sparkles with artifice.

Einbinder tells us a lot about herself in “Everything Must Go,” her debut special (she’s bisexual, has ADHD, is an ex-cheerleader), but her larky comedy doesn’t feel confessional. It’s not primarily about setups and punchlines either. Her oddball show comes off as a spoof of Hollywood glamour and over-the-top confidence. Directed by Sandy Honig with a visual vocabulary that evokes David Lynch as much as any special, the hour moves between tight close-ups and a long shot that makes the comic look like the inhabitant of a dollhouse. You hear the audience, but don’t see it as anything other than an undifferentiated mass. Continually breaking the fourth wall, Einbinder at one point looks away from the crowd, toward the camera, and makes a face as if to say directly to us: “Can you believe what’s going on?” Her idea of a transition from one joke to another is asking: “Would you believe that reminded me of something totally unrelated?”

There’s a self-indulgence in this knowing style that will alienate those looking for quick and familiar laughs. And her dramatic pauses can adopt the rigid pacing of a movie trailer. But there’s something exciting about a young performer operating at her own comic frequency. While some bits need her charisma to put them over, she has a couple of standout jokes, including one that presents humanity as a toxic husband and climate change as planet Earth “recognizing her worth and filing for a divorce.”

Einbinder has a shape-shifter’s gift for voices and illustrates the climate change metaphor through the movie “My Cousin Vinny”; her impression of Marisa Tomei shows off her actorly range. Like the whole special, the humor comes from how unexpected it is. There’s nothing dark about her presentation until the end, when the curtains close and Einbinder, standing alone backstage, collapses in a heap as the credits roll.

After three terrific specials in three years (and a fourth on the way), Raanan Hershberg is one of the funniest, most prolific comics working today. His dyspeptic delivery has the cadence of Gilbert Gottfried, but his joke writing evokes the craft of older comedians. In a nice modern update of the old Groucho Marx line about never wanting to be part of a club that would have him as a member, Hershberg says in his new hour, “Brave”: “When someone’s into me, I view that as a red flag.”

Why aren’t more people into Hershberg? He has self-released all his specials and he has a strong reputation in comedy circles, but he has yet to break through. For one thing, he has no gimmick. Nor does he traffic in attention-getting politics. And if he ties his jokes together into any coherent theme, it is a fairly banal skepticism of dogmatic thinking of all stripes. But his jokes are trickier than they seem, more interesting in their form than their content.

He comes on strong and loud but can go subtle and wry as well. He has a knack for zeroing in on small, familiar things and making you look at them in new ways, like his riff on how the justice system penalizes criminals by sentencing them to community service. After inviting us to consider that term, he concludes that you know we are a “selfish country when the punishment for a crime is to be a good person.” His joke about fear-mongering over transgender people using bathrooms that align with their identities is the best I’ve heard on the topic. Then he follows it by saying concern over transphobia is why he would never go on Joe Rogan’s podcast — unless, of course, he was asked.

Hershberg repeatedly works himself into a fuddled rage, specializing in two kinds of rants: one in which he confidently picks something apart and another in which his passion itself becomes the butt of the joke. In the final 10 minutes, he manages to deftly weave both strategies into an intricate joke. On the surface, it’s a case against astrology. But his running commentary on the joke turns it into something more formally adventurous that plays off the stand-up convention of telling audiences that what they’re about to hear is true. Most comics close their sets on broad gags, something sexual maybe or a big act-out. But Hershberg tries a more creative callback, one that makes a sharp point about the art while earning laughs from the blurry territory between truth and fiction.

(Stream it on YouTube)

A beautiful shot opens this debut hour portraying the comedian Mo Welch in the middle of a country road without a person in sight. Under a vast blue sky with a barn in the distance, she tries some crowd work to the sound of wind and insects. Then Welch tells a dark joke, explaining that the last time she saw her dad, they were playing hide-and-seek. “That was 20 years ago,” she says. “So he must have found a really good spot to hide.”

What follows is a mix of documentary and standup special, shifting from Welch telling jokes in front of a crowd (a more radical special would stay on the road) to her talking about her father, who cheated on her mother, spent time in jail and remains a mystery to her. Dad jokes, as well as jokes about Dad, have been a fixture of Welch’s career, adding another layer of self-examination to this project.

It’s a search to repair a broken relationship but more specifically to understand her own history. Along the way, she visits with her mother and makes some dark jokes about her family, while suspense builds as she gets closer to meeting him. Welch has a charming screen presence, with a jarring lightness about her. Her father, stone-faced and grizzled, couldn’t be more different. Their scene together is a sharp contrast with the recent face-off the comic Jerrod Carmichael had on his reality show with his stoic father.

Whereas Carmichael seems in control there, Welch presents something more absurd, unstable and anticlimactic. She veers from conflict, even deflecting it. There’s power in the unsaid. The jokes in their meeting are funny but also brutal. The last image we see is of Welch riding with her father on his motorcycle. It’s a lovely shot, but you don’t get the sense that they’re going anywhere.



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