Stand-up specials rarely begin with a comedian simply taking the stage and launching into the comedy. There’s almost always some sort of throat-clearing preamble, like the pre-game show parody the opens the Sklar Brothers’ recent Wbat Are We Talking About, or George Carlin chatting with his cab driver on the way to his show in What Am I Doing In New Jersey? Sometimes these skits are amusing, but more often than not they feel like an obligatory annoyance to be endured before the main event begins. When it comes to standup, keeping it simple is usually the best policy: Just give us a comedian with a microphone in front of an audience, and spare us the bells and whistles.
There are exceptions, of course, as Chelsea Peretti proves in her new Netflix special, One Of The Greats. Peretti and director Lance Bangs have fashioned a mock-grandiose opening befitting the special’s title: As she approaches the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco on a motorcycle, Peretti tells us in voice-over about the trials and tribulations that have brought her to this point, including “countless hour-long specials where I looked like a damn fool trying to be something I wasn’t.” What follows is a meta montage of Peretti trying on different personas in specials that never were, including the Hoo-Ha Network’s “Bitch, Please” and HOBO’s “It’s Go Time,” in which she dons an Eddie Murphy-style red leather suit and pumps up the crowd with endless repetitions of the titular catchphrase.
Once Peretti’s stand-up set begins, the tinkering with the format continues in mostly unobtrusive ways, mainly through audience cutaways revealing a crowd peppered with dogs, babies, and couples putting on excessive displays of public affection. For the most part these bits are seamlessly integrated into the flow of the show, but the shots of a clownsuit-clad Peretti taunting herself from just offstage are a bit too disruptive. Fortunately these are few and far between.
Peretti’s set reflects the meta trappings of the special in playful ways, as when she demonstates her hand-on-hip standup stance, designed to signal the audience that she’s going to be telling it like it is. She acknowledges her higher profile now that she’s on television every week in Brooklyn Nine-Nine by lampooning the concept of relatability, yet the bulk of her set is immensely relatable. Much of her material is observational, but although there are a few airplane jokes as mandated in the Comics’ Handbook, she mostly sticks to fresher topics from our age of technological wonders. Internet commenters, armpit Botox, and people who leave their smartphones unattended are all fair game, but a bit about texting with her dog provides some of the special’s biggest laughs.
When she’s not pondering hashtags and emojis, Peretti focuses on gender roles, particularly in the world of stand-up comedy. Some of her most biting material centers on the tiresome stereotypes about female comedians, such as the notion that they all constantly joke about their periods. While noting that she avoids menstrual material in her act, Peretti rightly points out that if men bled from their genitals once a month, 90 percent of male stand-up would center on this fact. She demonstrates how much easier it is for men to get laughs by pantomiming sex onstage, but observes that the primary distinction between herself and male comics is that she has a vagina between her legs throughout her entire set.
Any preconceptions about women in stand-up should be swept aside long before the hour-plus set comes to an end. Peretti recalls that when other girls were princesses for Halloween, she was dressing up as an old man, and that off-center sensibility carries on to this day. Her work is wide-ranging enough to incorporate her disdain for small talk (“Whereabouts do you hail from?”), the differences between vomit families and shit families, and the perils of women eating bananas in public. Her energetic stage presence and elastic voice may not be for everyone, but for those on her wavelength, her distinctive delivery is a huge part of her appeal. Peretti’s special doesn’t quite live up to its tongue-in-cheek title, but don’t let that stop you from adding it to your queue.