One Comedian’s Attempt to Make New York Laugh Again

“The disease could not have come at a worse time, because this year I was voted the ‘Comic to Watch’ vulture,” comedian Carmen Christopher drollly announced in a video he posted on Instagram last March in the United States completely closed. In the cartoon-like, gloomy clip, Christopher explains to his followers that he “maybe” the Coronavirus, a suspicion he developed because he suffered from “mild headaches”. The real tragedy, however, was that his creative and professional dynamism was slowed by the looming global crisis: “It finally felt like I was breaking through this year,” he says in the clip. “But it looks like it isn’t.”

Christopher, a Brooklyn comedian in his thirties with dry affect, has long been popular in the remote world of comedy.High maintenance. “He has also developed a number of digital sketches, such as”Small banks on Wall Street”, A short film about a stubborn Christmas tree seller who tries to indulge his Wall Street lifestyle fantasies after reading“ The Wolf of Wall Street ”. Christopher enjoys exploring the misguided hopes and dreams of particularly stupid male characters – last year he made a short film called “I’m killing it !!!“, A piece about a crazy fiduciary DJ who reshapes his life after being left out of the blue. It was a project that could have become a stepping stone that put him on the radar of taste lists like the aforementioned “Comics to Watch”.

But of all the cultural arenas that have suffered from the lockdown, standup comedy has perhaps been dealt the hardest blow as it relies on crowded indoor gatherings not only as a showcase for its end product but also as a laboratory in the material is developed. Dave Chappelle was the first comedian brave and financial enough to move on to live comedy at the height of the pandemic, hosting a number of socially distant shows in Ohio, including one for a twenty-seven minute Netflix project called “8:46“Posted on YouTube with a warning:” Normally I wouldn’t show you something so unrefined, I hope you understand, “he wrote. Others followed with varying degrees of success. Chelsea Handler filmed her new special “Evolution” off the Central Railroad of the New Jersey Terminal, which resulted in a very personal but too smooth hour full of jokes. Other comics took their sets to drive-in theaters, where car horns stood up for laughter and applause. “I’ve been doing comedy for many years and I finally noticed that my fan base is Kias,” comic artist Ester Steinberg told a crowded parking lot in front of the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.

When these comedians sought a welcoming outdoor environment, Christopher completely abandoned the pretext of normalcy. For his new project “Street special“On Peacock, he actually ran his show outdoors on the streets of New York City with no setup. Like Chappelle’s dark “8:46”, it can’t necessarily be called something special. It is better than describing a brutal experiment within the creative limits the pandemic imposes on us. Christopher has an expressionless delivery style that feels stoned, goofy, and drowsy until suddenly it doesn’t and becomes a little more nihilistic. In “Street Special” he puts on an Outback Steakhouse windbreaker and strolls through New York City with a rolling loudspeaker and microphone. He stops at intersections or in front of bars – in Union Square Park, in front of young skaters in Washington Square Park, in the lively restaurant streets of gentrified Brooklyn – and performs snippets of material, listlessly and to the confusion of the audience. It tends to take away the outdoors and all the inconveniences of performing in front of an unwilling audience, and the arrangement is so rudimentary and absurd that the special takes on the mischievous vibe of a man-on-the-street play. à la Eric André or Billy Eichner.

The experiment seems promising at first, but his comedy meets with resistance. At the beginning of the special, Christopher performs for a couple in love at Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn. He pretends to get a business call and ends up saying that an ISIS recruiter is on the other end of the line. “You can find me now – we’re all down at Grand Army Plaza,” he says. The joke rightly earns him some amused looks that would have turned into laughter if the audience hadn’t been wearing masks. Christopher has a fascination with violence and self-harm that leads to his deeply morbid and exciting jokes. (At some point he dreams of getting shot and letting his ex-girlfriends visit him in the hospital so he can take photos with them that will be posted on Instagram.)

But even his best work in “Street Special” has little chance of landing given the circumstances of these outdoor appearances. During the course of the shooting, it becomes clear that the audience is becoming more and more angry with Christopher’s presence. Instead of yelling, booing, or remaining silent as they might if they paid for a ticket, people often simply ask him to leave. “You can’t preach in front of my bar,” one owner of a pub tells him. Christopher becomes increasingly depressed as the footage continues and his audience does not amuse him.

After all, we feel that “street special” should never be funny. Rather, it seems that we share in the particular desperation associated with trying to create anything at all in such a strange and constricting moment. We talk a lot about the psychological challenges that COVID-19 brings, but less about the particular difficulty of distinguishing between personal crises of the garden variety and the sheer crappy of our circumstances. Is it me or is it the pandemic? Was it quarantine or was I actually depressed? Am I an uninspired person or do I just hate working from home? Is my child a bad student or is it just bad at Zoom? These are the questions that arise in “Street Special”, a project that will feel more like a coronavirus time capsule than an exemplary comedy work. We may not be able to answer these questions, but we can try to laugh.

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