We’ll start off by saying this: we found the Drew Michael HBO stand-up special to be very funny.
There was already so much discussion of what this stand-up special without a live audience would or could be even before it premiered over this weekend that we wanted to make sure at least stating whether it was funny or not was clear before we dive deep into the details.
Now, let’s unpack this experiment from Drew Michael and director Jerrod Carmichael.
This special is similar to Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette in that it shows how comedy is an art form, which still is a foreign concept to a lot of people. Comedy is indeed an art form and, as an art form, evolution is inevitable and often startling. Michael and Carmichael wanted to offer up a different way for stand-up comedy to be seen and they accomplished that in kind of an exquisite way on the back of Drew’s brilliant writing (this special has one of the all time, best jokes about suicide) and confessional performance.
Easily, this is the most cinematic comedy special there has ever been. The look suggests that we’re in Drew’s psyche and going deeper as the special progresses. You might notice that colors get deeper, moodier, and ambient sounds and sound effects denote how “far” we’re going into Drew’s thoughts. Also, there’s a clear narrative arc, a rarity in stand-up, established by interstitial conversations with a girlfriend that sort of act as chapters in the special.
That being said, it should be noted that this special is probably best enjoyed with headphones and streaming off a laptop in order to catch all this detail.
The sign of a joke working is a subsequent laugh after the joke is told. Unlike 99% of recorded stand-up, there is no laughter that you hear after Drew’s jokes are delivered. Still, we laughed heartily at them, sometimes even applauding by ourselves while watching. In fact, for those of you that deeply loathe how laugh tracks accompany multi cam sitcoms, you might really love this special for the absence of recorded laughs that you weren’t there for. Because of Drew’s material being so dark and personal, the beats and silences actually punctuate a lot of the punchlines for us.
We’re not exactly sure what this means for the future of stand-up comedy. The odds probably are in favor of the majority of comedians still recording an hour or half hour (or in Netflix’s case, 15 mins.) in front of a live crowd. That being said, we hope this Drew Michael special, which highly worth watching and enjoying, encourages comedy, as a whole, to try something different.