This week’s question comes from Alex McLevy. In conjunction with our “best of the year so far” coverage this week, we’re asking:
What pop culture has given you the biggest laugh in 2019 so far?
The Masked Singer is an awful show, taking an easy premise and making the laziest thing possible, but every second of it was worth it for “The Masked Engineer,” a landmark episode of the Hollywood Handbook podcast in which hosts Sean Clements and Hayes Davenport are joined by actor Shaun Diston (the visionary behind Comedy Bang! Bang!’s Rudi North) for a very dedicated—yet also clearly slapped together—parody. It’s a running gag on Hollywood Handbook that the audio engineers running the show are as important as The Boys themselves, and “The Masked Engineer” acts as a payoff to years of jokes about Engineer Devin, Engineer Ryan, and Chef Kevin. It’s a very funny setup, but it becomes brilliant when the first engineer starts to sing “Glycerine” and the distortion used to mask their voice turns the song into an unlistenable mess… or at least more of a mess. A more competent version of the gag with slightly more famous singers came a few weeks later, but the original is pure Handbook brilliance.
There isn’t an episode of television that has made me laugh more this year than “ronny/lily” from Barry’s second season, 30 minutes of go-for-broke, broad action comedy that fully embraces the absurdity. Confidently directed by Bill Hader, so much of my enjoyment of the episode’s comes his deliberate pacing—the events unfold slowly and methodically over the course of the episode, allowing the hilarity to accrue with each bizarre twist. But the thing that made me laugh the most was Jessie Giacomazzi’s performance as feral, “not of this world,” tae kwon do prodigy Lily. The undeniable MVP of the episode, the pint-sized Giacomazzi spends most of “ronny/lily” hacking her way through the woefully unprepared Barry and Fuches with unexpected ferocity and physicality. But my single favorite moment has to be Lily’s final appearance in the episode: After climbing atop Barry and Fuches’ getaway car, slinking her way into their backseat, and taking a chunk out of Fuches’ cheek, she lets out a primal shriek of fury, escaping into the night. Barry has never been more unpredictable, and I’ve rarely laughed harder.
2019 has been a damn good year for streaming comedy—Tuca & Bertie! I Think You Should Leave! The non-horrifically depressing parts of Russian Doll!—but if we’re going by sheer force of unstoppable gut laugh, my answer to this question is easy: season two, episode three of Fleabag—and specifically, the bit where she drops the trophy. Nothing has hit me harder this year than the editing on that moment; yes, obviously, as soon as Fleabag’s uptight force of nature sister Claire (Sian Clifford) tells her not to play with the extremely expensive, extremely sperm-shaped award, you know something bad is going to happen. And yet every time I watch it, I’m caught off guard by how damn fast she drops it, before the “Oooh, that’s heavy” is even all the way out of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s mouth. Smash-cut to her fleeing from the building, setting up an even more satisfying punchline/callback later in the episode. Sadly, the brief glimpse of the moment in the season’s trailer doesn’t make it clear what a well set-up gag this is; Amazon Prime users will just have to cue the full episode up for themselves—it doesn’t hurt that the opening is a great little primer on Claire and Fleabag’s relationship—and watch comedy gold unfold. (And if that gets them hooked on one of the best newish comedy series in recent memory, then hey: Bonus!)
Like fellow newcomers The Other Two, Tuca & Bertie, and Russian Doll, What We Do In The Shadows came out strong right out of the gate. Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi managed to change the setting for the FX adaptation of their vampiric spoof without losing any of the humor or bite, while also offering a distinct experience. The Long Island-based trio of Nandor (Kayvan Novak), Nadja (Natasia Demetriou), and Laszlo (Matt “BAHT!” Berry) engage in much of the same roommate drama, heightened by the relationship between Nadja and Laszlo as well as the presence of energy vampire Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch). But some of my favorite moments came from whenever the vampires were out in the world making bumbling attempts to take it over. One of the biggest laughs came early on, in the “City Council” episode, which places these supernatural beings in the dullest and most ordinary of settings: the meeting of the governing body for a city no one wants to live in, much less rule. The scenes in the city council chambers have a Parks And Recreation vibe to them, but nothing has made me laugh quite like seeing Laszlo’s offering of a pile of raccoons utterly fail to impress the head of the council. With centuries of wooing and vampire orgies under his belt, he still thinks the best course of action is to dump a bunch of carcasses on her doorstep. The dejected look on his face when councilwoman Barbara Lazarro (Marceline Hugot) wonders if it’s the work of an international gang make the frequent forays into bureaucracy worth it.
While plenty of shows and movies have made me laugh, there’s still almost nothing as funny as the kinds of “no, this really happened” stories friends swap with each other over drinks in real life. So while Baraka has properly stumped for Barry above, I’m going to go with an anecdote that has made me laugh thinking about it since the first time I heard it: Bill Hader’s interview with Jimmy Kimmel in which he recounts being a P.A. at the start of his career. I don’t want to spoil the story itself, but it involves a group of bored production assistants goofing around, and a fake retractable knife from the props department. A good portion of why it’s hilarious is probably Hader’s delivery, which is one of those singular elements that can’t be reproduced and probably explains why he’s a charismatic star, and we’re all not. But I’ve probably sent the clip to more than a dozen people at this point, and it has generated returns far beyond the initial investment, in the form of running inside jokes, otherwise known as the lifeblood of nerds. If you ever see me in public, feel free to grab your chest and gasp, “WHY?!” I promise you, it will make me laugh.
The easy answer is Tim Robinson’s I Think You Should Leave on Netflix, which has made it hard for me to approach any conversation without somehow inserting “their bones are their money.” Still, though, when I think back on the weirdest fits of laughter I’ve had this year, I turn to the How Did This Get Made podcast, which gave the world the joy that is “Jason Statham Angeleno.” While discussing the 2004 thriller Cellular, the gang somehow stumbles into a throwaway bit imagining the very, very British Statham as a lifelong Los Angeles resident. There’s nothing funny about it on its surface, but guest Ike Barinholtz sprints with it, delivering a pitch-perfect impression of the tough-guy actor as he angrily dubs late L.A. food critic Jonathan Gold a “regional treasure” and quotes the Los Angeles Times, “which I fucking subscribe to.” It’s the specificity of the bit that makes it work; as Statham, Barinholtz references hyper-local restaurants, coffee shops, and theaters while aggressively giving food recommendations, parking advice, and tips for the “perfect Pasadena Sunday.” Thank god someone made a supercut.
The dinner table scene in the season two opener (“Chapter Eleven”) of Netflix’s On My Block was a mix of uncomfortable circumstance and immaculate comedic timing from everyone involved, and the headache-inducing laughter I experienced because of it is something I’ll never forget. Shoshana Bush as Mario’s (Danny Ramirez) Big Gulp-slurping pregnant girlfriend, Amber, was pitch-perfect, and the cultural rift between her—“a beneficiary of white privilege,” as she so aptly phrases it—and her boyfriend’s family was made more and more palpable with each very well-meaning overshare. The audible gasp from the table when she calls Geny (Paula Garcés) “mama” was so overly familiar (and shared—I gasped, too) that I cringe just thinking about it. Ruby’s (Jason Genao) very high state elevated each amused reaction to Amber’s clueless ramblings, and the abject horror on everyone’s faces as she gabs on makes the scene one to watch on loop—which I did. On My Block handles moments like these so well, relying on the naturally wild elements of everyday interactions instead of leaning too heavily on shock value. Also, anyone who can render Jasmine (Jessica Marie Garcia) speechless is a real piece of work.
Billie Lourd has been American Horror Story’s saving grace in recent seasons, and she was a bright spot in that anthology series’ intentionally funny spiritual sibling, Scream Queens. But even that level of familiarity with her comedic chops didn’t prepare me for the block-leveling performance she gives as Gigi in Booksmart, a supporting turn of Blutarsky-esque proportions that manages to be the most consistently hilarious thread in a consistently hilarious movie. Actually, Animal House is the wrong John Belushi movie to reference: Lourd is essentially doing what her late mother did in The Blues Brothers, turning up everywhere the film’s protagonists don’t want her, maximizing limited screen time by fucking up as much shit as possible. It’s such a weird, physical, noisy turn, but also loving, friendly, and wise—she makes Gigi the type of person who can only exist in a movie (and exactly the type of person that makes me want to go to the movies). Her persistent presence and evolving skillset during Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein’s last-gasp night of debauchery makes it pretty plain that the Booksmart team kept coming up with new material for their “magical party coyote” as production rolled on, but who could blame Olivia Wilde and Katie Silberman for wanting to keep the Gigi party rolling? Not me.
I know, he’s having one hell of a moment right now, but nothing this year has cracked me up like Keanu Reeves’ cameo in the Netflix rom-com Always Be My Maybe. Reeves fearlessly plays such an exaggerated version of himself, who turns out to be a bit of an asshole. He requests restaurant meals that play with the concept of time, his childhood crush was Mother Teresa, and he compliments his romantic rival Marcus (Randall Park) on his “mediocre nothingness.” The barely disguised hostility comes to a head when Keanu brings everyone back to his place for a game of a kind of apocalyptic Truth Or Dare, which Keanu learned from the stunt coordinator from John Wick. When asked to pick who in the room they would choose to die, Keanu immediately yells out “Marcus!” and subsequently smashes a glass vase over his own head. I was able to see the movie at a screening, and it was fun to watch in a crowd where everyone was falling apart over Reeves’ bizarro version of himself. But I still crack up on random rewatches whenever Reeses points and yells “Marcus!” when asked who in the room he would kill, and Marcus meekly replies, “I’d kill you too, Keanu. I’d kill you just for fun.”