Anthony Jeselnik: Thoughts and Prayers (2015)
June 25, 2017 9:39 AM - Subscribe

It's not new, but inspired by his role on the much beloved Garfunkel and Oates series, I checked out this special. I laughed…a lot. In fact, I'm a bit concerned about some of the things I laughed at and I'm curious to discuss it and others' reactions.

I can't deny that I found the vast majority of this special incredibly funny. It's deliberately trying to push boundaries, which I think is a valuable function of comedy to speak uncomfortable truths (e.g., typical reaction to distant tragedy on social media being a form of self aggrandizement rather than compassion). But I also recognize that jokes play a social function and if I'm laughing at a joke premised on prejudice, it means I share that prejudice on some level. What I've been thinking about a lot since watching this is which jokes are actually predicated on hateful beliefs and which are merely shocking or speaking uncomfortable truths. Also, Jeselnik's persona on stage is so arrogant it really makes me wonder about the extent to which it's a character.
posted by Cogito (3 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
I have not watched this special, though I have tried to listen to Jeselnik's stuff in the past. I think that this hits it on the head:

Jeselnik's persona on stage is so arrogant it really makes me wonder about the extent to which it's a character.

To articulate my position, I think Jeselnik's style of comedy is (broadly) "Here's a premise, you think it's going here, but it's going to this totally awful place over here." And those who enjoy it enjoy the catharsis of switched expectations, I guess? But it's definitely going for shock and horribleness, rather than insight. Daniel Tosh, Natasha Leggero, and a few other comedians trade in this sort of comedy.

On the other hand, Chris Rock had him open a few dates on a recent leg of the Total Blackout tour. I would not have put them in a room together, but apparently Rock thinks Jeselnik's great. So what the hell do I know?
posted by aureliobuendia at 11:46 AM on June 25


I liked Jeselnik's first comedy central special a lot more than this one. I think one problem he has (apart from trading on mean-spirited jokes) is that his style is pretty unsustainable. His jokes are largely meta-jokes, they're funny in as much as they surprise the audience about when/where the punchline is going to be, not just the what. I think that's why he is pretty well liked among comedians--he is doing something different, playing with the conventions of the genre. But even though his jokes don't follow a conventional rhythm, he does have a rhythm, and once you become accustomed to it, it's easy to see the form of the joke as he's delivering it, even if content of the punchline is not obvious. But since the content of his jokes isn't particularly original, once you have a handle on the form, the surprise is gone. That's probably why I liked the first special more than the second. His TV show was horrible, unwatchable; probably because he needs a lot more time to craft his jokes than is possible to do on a tv schedule, even if it was once a week.

As to the issue of meanness, it's a crutch, like foul language, funny voices, and talking about sex. Great comedy sometimes involves these things, but more often than not they are cheap ways to get an easy laugh. A lot of Jeselnik's comedy plays with the tension of saying things that maybe aren't quite racist/sexist/whatever, but are definitely adjacent. This is really well-trodden ground, but still produces lots of laughs through shock value and creating the weird sort of discomfort many people find amusing. But to me this is easily the weakest part of his act, it's the most prosaic kind of comedy there is in this era.
posted by skewed at 12:49 PM on June 25


I find him hilarious in small doses, but he really is a one trick pony. The jokes are really quite funny most of the time, and definitely make you horrified at yourself for laughing sometimes, but you need just small bites here and there, not a whole set. IMHO, of course.
posted by biscotti at 4:14 PM on June 28


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