It always amazes me that so many people want to get into stand-up comedy. I know actors who insist on telling pretty lame jokes about online dating. I recently realized that a professional dancer who seemed to have gone off the radar was actually doing stand-up on a regular basis. In fact, apparently, it involves smoking too much weed.
Of course, that takes courage. Also a degree of narcissism. Most standup comics — and if Netflix is any guide, there are millions of them — from the tempting to the total celebrities, are unaware of themselves.
Bill Burr: Live at Red Rocks offers us one who is totally confident and evolving. Burr tends to divide people. He started out with the persona of a guy who existed halfway between irascible and very angry. He was prone to ranting and still does, but now he turns jokes on their heads until the ending is unpredictable.
Mainly he looks for hypocrisy, which nowadays abounds more than usual. A bit that he’s refined and varied for a number of years, it annoys him that there’s outrage over things people said years ago. He cites John Wayne and Sean Connery as guys who, if you look up their statements from decades ago, look like racists or seem sexist. So you will be sentenced. As if those who judge didn’t do and say stupid things in their youth or before it was unacceptable to say certain things.
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There are segments that make viewers uncomfortable. In connection with Wayne and Connery, he points out that Coco Chanel was closely associated with the Nazis and probably spied for them. Still, Chanel is not being denied or condemned today. At the same time, he is directed against feminists who complain that too little attention is paid to women’s sport, even though few women bother to attend or watch women’s sport. He has a lot to say about the hypocrisy of some women and that probably won’t win him any new fans, but he does touch on some issues that need discussion rather than being the subject of slogans.
There is also a lot of material about his own hypocrisy. He talks about trying to do good deeds, like helping the homeless. And then, with a certain self-loathing, he admits that even when he’s trying to be good, he feels repelled.
There are segments that aren’t funny at all until Burr undermines expectations and leaves the audience feeling somewhat uneasy with his own inability to laugh at himself. He is an interesting comedian these days, a man in his 50s who can laugh at his youth and his relationship with his father. He is self-deprecating, while others aim to shock and find glory in the childish plot of being aggressive. His temper has cooled and he strives to be sensible and open-minded, although he is aware that some of his listeners may not want to go there with him. He has overcome what others cannot.
Cristela Alonzo: middle class (streams Netflix) is another cauldron of comedy. Alonzo is much more conventional and smiles the whole time. She’s introduced onstage by Congressman Joaquin Castro, who tells you the special is about being poor and Mexican-American. The Texas comedian is already a hero of sorts, as she’s the first Latina to create, produce, write and star in her own American series. The sitcom called Cristela was on ABC for a full season in 2014-2015 and was then dropped.
What happens here is mostly observational humor and personal stories about her health and body that are sweet and engaging, rueful rather than angry or outraged. What makes them angry are everyday things like the exploitation of farm workers. Alonzo is a rare thing, an old-fashioned progressive, an advocate for the downtrodden and able to find humor rather than anger in her accounts of her occasional encounters with the police. It’s a laid back comedy set that probably won’t offend anyone, but is sure to make a lot of people smile.
When James Corden announced not long ago that he was stepping down as the host of his late-night show on CBS, Alonzo made it clear she wouldn’t mind trying for the job. She would be good at it, lovable, talkative and, unlike Bill Burr, keep the comedy straightforward.
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