The form of the comedy special was already going through growing pains before the pandemic and was subject to attempts at deconstruction, mostly out of necessity because of COVID-19. As a result, there are a number of specials without any audience or a Zoom audience or an audience of cars at a drive-in that had never been done before in the entire history of comedy. If you add in the political and cultural turmoil of the last 7 years on top of a desire by comedians and networks/streaming services to reimagine what would a comedy special could be or look like, there’s a lot of forces tugging at what stand-up comedy (in what is often thought of as it’s most pristine form) should be at the present moment.
Moses Storm, as a stand-up, cleverly inserts himself at this cluttered intersection of comedy’s past, present, and future by dealing with his own very own past, present, and future. He goes one step further to examine those intersections on a deeply personal and artistic level in his exceptional HBO Max/Team Coco hour special, Trash White.
Storm artfully, with the golden guiding hand of director Lance Bangs, takes a spirited stroll through his individual memory lane, especially regarding the memories where “crazy beats scary”. “Crazy beats scary” is actually the proposed thesis of the hour, but Moses then cooly tries to play off this debut special as nothing like the hybrid form-defying comedy specials of the last few years or the “modern comedy special” (those solo show comedy specials like Nanette). Moses claims he has no agenda here and isn’t try to espouse any educational value to this carefully thought out and meticulously worked out hour.
This all seems like a trick, and an enjoyably slick one at that. Storm details the systemic effect of poverty and it’s nearly impenetrable cycle in the United States over the last several decades, then relates it to all of his fun and punchy stories of growing up on the fringes of society (especially one with his mother try to stage a winning entry for America’s Funniest Home Videos). There is a self-made clash of expectations and execution on Trash White that espouse a core tenet of Moses’ comedy, the very simple notion that there is more than meets the eye.
The production value of Trash White is far removed from the empty stages that the overwhelming majority of comedy specials fall back on. Moses looks like he’s performing in an art installation and is arguably part of said art installation (the entire stage is painted in stark white and Moses is also donned head to toe in white). There is a rather surprising overhead projection to play clips and have glossy video accents for many of his bits. All this dressing could seemingly be in service of Moses’ proposed intention of not saying anything that’s supposed to change hearts and minds, but, it actually is all the “sugar that makes the medicine go down”.
We got to see Moses work out his hour when he was planning to do it pre-pandemic, then at several times where he tried to do it in between various lockdowns. That required Moses going to arguably insane lengths to prepare at a time where stage time for comedians was not even supposed to exist due to the ongoing transmission of COVID-19. In seeing the finished product, Moses lived true to his premise that “crazy beats scary” and made a special you should definitely go watch and enjoy.
Moses Storm: Trash White is now streaming on HBO Max.