The Strop is a place to whet your appetite for damn good stories. Check back every Friday for our latest recommendations.
1. Christopher Titus, Titus
Christopher Titus’ eponymous television show might just be the only thing good he’s ever done (his standup specials are … well, they’re rough), but somehow, against all odds, it is one of the best TV shows no one’s ever heard of. Born before television was yet thought of as good art, and destined to wither on the vine like everything else Fox has lost (don’t get me started), it somehow lasted for three incredibly incisive seasons. While it may not have invented dark humor on television, it explored the reaches of the psyche with pathos and empathy and biting wit, all while never staying away from the harshest moments reality has to offer — there is abuse, emotional and physical; there is a mother discharged from the psychiatric hospital who immediately tries to poison her family on Thanksgiving; there is a father who throws his children out on the street when they argue with him; there are massive fights in relationships and teenage runaways and sexual assault and machismo both succeeding and failing. Oh, and it’s got the great Stacy Keach in the role he was born to play: the misogynistic dad who’s been married more times than he could count, could not care less about anything, and survives by out-toughing a world that he thinks is out to get him at all times. Gleefully postmodern (much of the show takes place in a black-and-white room that is a stand-in for the narrator’s mind, which he is constantly trying to escape), willfully both ahead and behind its time on gender matters (there’s a hyper-effeminate man we’re supposed to laugh at for being so; alternately, one of the main characters is being sexually harassed by her female boss, and the men in the show are absolutely flummoxed by how they’re supposed to act as men in such a situation), and all of this wrapped in a constant deep-seated terror of his own impending insanity that Chris can never entirely escape. But as the show reminds us, being crazy has some side benefits: when the Armageddon comes, “We’re going to go ‘Hey … there’s no one watching the Lexus dealership!'” – Brandon Williams
2. Daniel Sloss
Sloss was one of those comedians that I came around to slowly. His jokes weren’t the kind of thing I could get onboard with in single clips, and often they felt childish or edgy. But then I sat down and watched one of his Netflix specials all the way through, and that’s where Daniel Sloss really shines. He’s a storyteller in the way many comedians are, but his narrative spans the entire show, turning itself again and again for a new angle, a sharp inhalation of breath, a moment of reflection. His humor skews dark — dark to the point of tastelessness in some cases, leaving the joke feeling uncomfortable — but it’s never without reason, and that “edge” I found tiresome in clips became revelatory in longer formats, when Sloss was left to his weaving long enough to make a point. He’s not for everyone, and it’s hard to sell a comedian on “you have to watch the full special to get it.” Still, it’s true. I’ve never walked away from a Daniel Sloss special without a lot of emotional work ahead of me. For me, that’s really what I come to comedy for in the first place — not to escape society, but to look deeper at it, and myself. – Daniel Mazzacane
3. Hannah Gadsby, Nanette
Anyone who already knows Hannah Gadsby is going to point you towards her 2018 Netflix special Nanette, and I am no different. Gadsby’s now-famous attempt at deconstructing the expectation of what a comedy show is, and the ways it preys on the insecurities and ugliness of the performer is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s good. More than that, Gadsby herself is good, reflecting on storytelling and the power of owning a narrative by telling it on a stage and having the ability to change that narrative to tell a joke. Her ability to tear apart her own narrative, bring the audience into her confidence, then turn the mirror on them throughout the show is both uncomfortable and amazing to watch. Gadsby’s comedy can be brusque and aggressive, but it’s also thoughtful, and refuses to punch down. Give Nanette a watch, even if it’s not your type of comedy: Gadsby’s story and the way she chooses to tell it is worth the time. – Daniel Mazzacane