It’s actually nice that only three specials came out last month. We needed some room to breathe, take a break from our screens, get outside, and enjoy summer. Or just stay in our air conditioned apartments and binge on Ozark. In case you missed it, here’s a rundown of what dropped in July.
Erik Griffin – The Ugly Truth (Showtime)
Erik Griffin was the last of the three comedians doing the Showtime Double Dip, releasing an hour-long special timed nicely to their starring role in I’m Dying Up Here. When I asked Griffin why he thought this was the right time to put out his first full-length special he said, “I don’t know if it was so much the right time as much as I just got the right partner. The timing was right with the new show and having this relationship with Showtime.” I appreciate that honesty because while The Ugly Truth had some moments, a lot of the bits could have used a little more time in the incubator. Griffin is at his most interesting when he gets topical and personal about his own body image issues. His bit about The Purge is wonderfully dark and engaging, especially in the way he forces you to think about who you would kill if given the chance. On the other hand, his bit about ordering food at a restaurant is a pedestrian premise that stays safely on the sidewalk, aside from a few choice expletives. But all together, The Ugly Truth felt real, which is more than I can say for I’m Dying Up Here.
Ari Shaffir – Double Negative (Netflix)
In an era of too many specials, Ari Shaffir dropped two mini specials, packaged together as Double Negative. Divided into two parts that each clock in around the 45-minute mark, Children and Adulthood show two distinct sides of Shaffir. Inspired by George Carlin’s FM & AM and Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, he explains that “one side is what I’m against, the other side is what I’m for in this life I’ve chosen.” There’s a lot going on here, both technically and thematically. From a technical standpoint the specials were both shot the same night at Austin’s Cap City Comedy Club, with only a brief intermission in between for a quick wardrobe and lighting change. Taking the special to Netflix, where he could have full creative control, also incurred personal risk to Shaffir and eventually led to Comedy Central dropping him as the host of his own show This Is Not Happening. In terms of content, he’s not trying to win any popularity awards with his feelings on how kids are garbage or how Thai ladyboys helped him figure out his sexuality. But he’s never tried to be popular, which is why he’s one of the most interesting comics to watch these days.
Joe Mande – Joe Mande’s Award-Winning Comedy Special (Netflix)
In what might be the funniest intro to a special so far this year, Joe Mande sets the stage for what this effort is all about: winning an award. The prize is the completely fictional American Humour Award, which was inspired in part by Mande’s time spent writing on Comedy Central’s short-lived The Comedy Awards. “The whole notion of that seemed absurd to me,” he explained. After an extended training/pre-game style montage, the special begins with Mande incorporating everything he gleaned from his intensive preparation, from a braggadocious hip-hop track to giving Roman Polanksi credit for directing the special. Once he hits the stage the award gag slowly fades and we’re left with Mande telling well-crafted stories, deconstructing pop TV, and selling the crowd on his various bizarre premises, Shark Tank-style. “I tend to gravitate toward bits that start off really badly. I like to start in a hole and try to dig my way out.” The special may not win any awards, but it’s worth your consideration for the ISIS bit alone.