Vulnerability is the best thing in comedy right now

Mike Birbiglia sticks out in my mind as a standup comic that really turned a corner with his work when he went from everyday observational…

Vulnerability is the best thing in comedy right now

Mike Birbiglia sticks out in my mind as a standup comic that really turned a corner with his work when he went from everyday observational humor to edge-of-your-seat riveting stories from his life. He’s covered this in countless interviews, some of his own standup, and in the film he made, Sleepwalk with Me, but once he changed his act, his comedy got immeasurably better. His standup became fascinating and revealing and took a great deal of courage to put out there.

I heard about Chris Gethard’s recent HBO special from seemingly everyone.

You have to see this show, he talks about mental illness in ways you’ve never heard.

Chris took a confessional one-man stage show and sprinkled bits of standup comedy in it, and got it on HBO. I loved this special. He described what it’s like to live with depression better than anyone else I’ve ever heard. His stories are raw and introspective and deeply affected me for weeks after. He’s said in interviews that each show was emotionally and physically draining and it’s easy to see why. It’s heavy but funny, and I was laughing and crying while watching it on a tiny screen thousands of miles from where it was filmed—I can’t imagine what it is like to experience it live in the room.

A few weeks ago, I started hearing even bigger accolades for Hasan Minhaj’s Netflix special. How it was “reinventing the standup special” and I have to say after watching it: it totally lives up to the hype. Hasan’s special will make you laugh and think and shake you to your core as he deftly leaps from a breezy joke about hashtags right into describing what it’s like to experience a hate crime. It’s bold, hilarious, and enlightening throughout. It’s fucking spectacular.

I think that’s what drew me to Louie CK’s show Louie a few years back. His comedy also turned a corner when he got intensely personal, and his show was much funnier and more poignant than I ever expected.

I see the same magic in Aziz Ansari’s Master of None show. The first season was fun to watch with a couple standout episodes but the second season is mind blowing from beginning to end—it’s on another level. It’s deeply personal, funny, moving, and tackles a host of big subjects. I’ve watched the second season’s first episode four times now and just thinking about it again makes me want to view it another time. Allora!

I just saw The Big Sick after hearing about it for the past six months and it’s phenomenal. Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon’s own lives play out on screen and it’s an ambitious tear jerker of a story that stomps you in the chest and practically redefines what a romantic comedy can accomplish in two hours. You get to see relationships start and end, both flourish and die, and every emotion you get throughout feels incredibly real.

I don’t know where I’m going with this, but I think the line that goes through all these comedians’ work is they took great risk by embracing vulnerability and put it all on display for us. They expose more of themselves than typical standup comics to date, and the audience certainly could turn on them at any second if any of it rang false, but instead magic happens, and we get all these great works.

Brené Brown talks a lot about vulnerability being one of the scariest things to do that is also one of the valuable things you can do for others around you. I don’t doubt her theories—any time someone has been unexpectedly vulnerable around me, I’ve either made a friend for life, or become a fan for life.

Whether or not this is new a “trend” in comedy, I have to say I’m quite enjoying it. There are a lot of terrific and deep pieces of comedy out there thanks to it, stuff I’ve never seen before in decades of following comedy.