Make 'Em Laugh: Anthony Jeselnik's "Caligula"


Inside everyone there’s a voice they’ve learned to keep internalized with the snarky and sometimes morbid retorts that arise in everyday situations. For most of us, we just chuckle and file that little witticism away without ever vocalizing it, but for Anthony Jeselnik it’s how he makes a living. His comedic style relies heavily on saying the worst politically incorrect response to common situations, and his timing makes it so that it never feels like he’s attempting to be shocking just for the sake of being shocking. After all, both humor and horror are subjective and at times they’re even intertwined. So as long as there are people capable of laughing at tragic faults of humanity, Anthony Jeselnik will have a promising career as a comedian.

The basic premise behind Anthony Jeselnik’s comedy routine is that his onstage personality (and maybe even his offstage one) is just about the worst person you’ve never met. One setup after another, he proposes situations where a rational person might choose one of two sensible options in either direction, and then he chooses an extreme route down a third, darker rabbit hole. It’s true, that after awhile such a pattern becomes predictable and so do a few of his jokes, but half the humor in his comedy is the audience’s willingness to accept his darker alternative as a viable option. When you start anticipating the punchline going somewhere in the direction of letting someone die from a snakebite on the foot because you find feet gross or that a father wouldn’t want a divorce if it means they have to take care of the kid, then you know the comedy is starting to reflect that little bit of evil inside yourself.

For those who prefer their comedy a little bit nicer and more milquetoast, Jeselnik is bound to rub you the wrong way. Virtually no topic is off the table if there’s a way to spin it to a humorous finish through his very subdued and paced delivery. And in his defense, at least he warns the audience to expect the three rape jokes in his set, two of which come pretty quickly right from the start. Ultimately his comedy doesn’t really register as dirty, at least not in the way it would with Sarah Silverman or Joe Rogan, and it’s not as abrasive in its delivery as David Cross. It’s a very measured calmness somewhere between Mitch Hedberg and Louis C.K. He knows what he’s saying is subversive and he knows the best way to serve it up is slowly so the audience has to savor every comically sadistic morsel.

To really understand Jeselnik’s style of comedy you just need to look at the last 15 minutes of Caligula where he challenges the audience to endure the most offensive and insensitive jokes in his arsenal. They do, but the laughter is mixed with gasps and groans that they could even laugh at the joke they just heard. Both the audience and Jeselnik revel in the knowledge that his jokes are mean-spirited but also hilarious, and half the fun of it becomes hearing the audience try to decide where they stand on Jeselnik’s sense of comic morality.

Lex Walker • Editor

He's a TV junkie with a penchant for watching the same movie six times in one sitting. If you really want to understand him you need to have grown up on Sgt. Bilko, Alien, Jurassic Park and Five Easy Pieces playing in an infinite loop. Recommend something to him - he'll watch it.


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