Weekly Watch: ‘One of the Greats’
Allie Tollaksen | Monday, November 24, 2014
The opposite side of the coin can be just as cringe-worthy: the telling of professionally-funny women they are great “female” comedians acknowledges their humor but also qualifies it. So, what’s a “female comedian” to do?
Chelsea Peretti hilariously and intelligently addresses this question — and many more — in her latest stand-up special, “One of the Greats,” now available for instant streaming through Netflix.
The comic, writer and star of Fox’s “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” tackles everything from the public and media’s perception of women to her own questions and insecurities about being a comedian, weaving together layers of jokes and observations through both live stand-up and some especially great editing and off-stage additions.
For example, the stand-up set, which the Oakland, California, native performed in San Francisco (she occasionally quipped with the audience about being from the Bay area) was intercut with short, surreal shots of Peretti dressed up as a clown, mocking herself on stage. At another point, she’s confronted by an image of herself in middle school in the audience, the shot flickering from adult Peretti dressed in young clothes to a photograph bizarrely sitting in a theater seat, coming to life and assuring Peretti she doesn’t have to turn her problems into jokes.
This extra layer of self-awareness within the special makes it especially rich. Peretti is able to simultaneously riff about awkward silences at dinner parties while calling attention to the existential questions she faces by taking the stage. The result is a strange and wonderfully executed meta-comedy that pulls back the curtain on the darkness behind standup while still pulling in laughs.
It seems at first glance that Peretti contradicts herself or doesn’t give us answers we want to the questions she raises about comedy, especially being woman in comedy. At times she talks about the stupidity of the question “What’s it like being a female comedian?” but at other times talks about uniquely female experiences, what some may interpret as a contradictory act.
But that’s the genius of Peretti’s special. By doing this, both sharing her experiences through traditional standup and revealing her self-awareness and reservation about the act in the off-stage segments of the special, Peretti beautifully reveals the double standards faced by comedians who are women. “One of the Greats” exposes anxiety felt by not just female comedians, but women who want to share their experiences without the threat of seeming cliché or perpetuating stereotypes.
The stand-up is at its best during these most self-aware moments, but to execute such a statement in a special, Peretti also had to be hilarious — and she is. At times, the special cuts to absurd and delightful plants in the audience, perfectly mocking the genre of comedy specials. Within her stand-up performance, her impressions of surfer bros and “hot girls” who give bad dating advice are excellent, and her physical comedy prompts plenty of big laughs several times throughout the show.
To top it off, Peretti wonderfully balances more subtle humor and nuanced meta-comedy with bold, unapologetic confidence. By titling her special “One of the Greats,” planting super-fans in the audience and jokingly calling herself a “one of the top touring comedians in the country right now,” Peretti’s attitude is both funny and wildly thought-provoking. (I repeatedly asked myself, “What would I think if a male comedian said that?” or “That sounds like something a male comedian would say,” which I don’t believe was an accidental on Peretti’s part.) At times, she abruptly switches between talking about her insecurities and anxieties to unabashed self-assurance, and through this dissonance reveals so much more than could simply be delivered via punch line.
The subtlety and smartness of “One of the Greats” puts Peretti at the top of my list of comedians. The special is complex, political and hysterical, and Peretti makes it look easy. I can’t wait to see what the comedian has in store. Luckily, “One of the Greats” can be watched again and again, with new layers of jokes and commentary emerging with each viewing like sifting for gold.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.