There is probably no meaning to the fact that Netflix made the 4th of July the debut date for its series The Standups. It's a set of recently taped half-hour comedy sets from six up-and-coming comics. No, Netflix couldn't have been thinking that this was an illuminating snapshot of current-era comedy material. It's simply a holiday in the U.S. and people are sitting around wondering if there's something new and funny on Netflix. That's all.
Still, you and me, we can use it as an illustration of comedy material: the themes and tropes of now. The six-pack features Dan Soder, Nate Bargatze, Fortune Feimster, Deon Cole, Nikki Glaser and Beth Stelling. None is a superstar or even a TV star, but several have good careers chugging along on the comedy circuits. Each has their own style and yet, they overlap, in a way.
Here's the thing – almost all of them do material about air travel and fast food. There, right there is the shared humour of the United States right now. The hassle and weirdness of going to an airport and travelling on a plane. Plus, it's ridiculous that fast-food chains are now claiming they offer real, authentic food.
Nate Bargatze, who has the first episode, is the most agreeable of the bunch. He's laid-back, a generalist and doesn't go in for crude jokes. But there's a lot of that stuff to be found in these six half hours.
Bargatze's self-deprecating humour, nicely crafted, covers mocking social media ("It's celebrities telling you you're the worst"), marriage jokes, high-school reunions and not going to the gym. Then there are very specific jokes about Starbucks, Wal-Mart and Google. And, of course, airports and the stress of taking an airplane flight.
Fortune Feimster is the only one to dip into vaguely political humour. "I'm a lesbian and I'm good at it!" she shouts. Later, she describes herself as this: "I'm just a beautiful snowflake trying not to melt." There are some jokes about some U.S. states being fixated on who uses their bathrooms and there's a long bit about getting stoned on food cooked with marijuana. Feimster is a very physical presence and, after five minutes, deeply irritating. A person longing for an airport joke.
Deon Cole, who writes for Conan O'Brien's talk show and has appeared on the series Angie Tribeca, is black and announces he's going to mock white people. He doesn't, really. He's got a list of jokes he ticks off. He swears a lot and calls women names that cannot be quoted in most newspapers. Mind you, he is by far the most interesting of the six comics. There's a strange vibe going on and you wonder what role he's playing in order to get you off-guard. At times, he swerves suddenly from "I like to go to all-white establishments and ask for free stuff" to a cold, hard critique of sexism and racism. He has a particularly sharp piece about Caitlyn Jenner. He's the only comic in the series who is genuinely, angrily funny in an unsettling way.
Nikki Glaser has appeared on Amy Schumer's series and had her own series, Not Safe with Nikki Glaser, on Comedy Central. Sex is her subject, plus tampons, farting, breakups with boyfriends and online dating. None of it is particularly shocking or fearless and a good deal of it is expressly juvenile, but it's no surprise to hear a lot of riffs on airplane travel and airports.
Beth Stelling is also obsessed with travel, airports, hotels and TSA agents. Her material is raw and far more fearless than Glaser's, but not exactly scintillating – it relies a lot on barfing and toilet humour. (Stelling achieved notoriety a few months ago when she said on social media that an ex-boyfriend had physically abused and raped her. But she doesn't go anywhere near that story for material.) The deadpan, acerbic delivery is striking and yet, the jokes aren't memorable.
Dan Soder has the sixth episode – you can watch in any order, obviously – and it's a letdown closer to the series. Affable and given to a lot of facial expressions, Soder's humour us basically this: "I'm a 33-year-old pothead and I still play video games." One can tell he wants to be seen as a sweet, funny guy, with all his material about his grandma. And there's a long, long bit about his ex-girlfriend – a rich, sarcastic person, apparently – which goes nowhere. It's merely bittersweet, in an ordinary way.
What Soder lacks is good airport material. Watch this six-part series and you get the strong impression that the most vital encounters in American life are with a TSA agent. Never mind politics. Never mind the polarizing wrought by social media. Never mind family or TV or movies. What unites everybody is the hassle of airports and air travel. That, and fast-food joints. Extrapolate what you want from that.