In the middle of a stand-up special? Of all the nerve. I mean how honest is stand-up going to get?
Seriously, this is an amazing special. A piece of art. It’s so well made, fully formed and next-level brilliant. Bill Burr told me about it and said I had to watch it. I never would have on my own. I mean even the name Rothanial sounds like some Japanese version of Vick’s vapor rub. “What kind of an arty-farty assed name is that? Why call it that?” I said in my usual idiotic cadence. I won’t give it away, but it’s a beautiful title to a masterful piece of work.
I really didn’t want to watch after Bill laid it out to me the way he did. “It’s so good, the stand-up, the directing by Bo Burnham, makes you want to rethink everything you’ve ever done. Makes me feel like a hack.” Not really what you want to hear from the yud-yud whose last two specials you’ve just directed. The truth is though, he was right. If for some reason you haven’t seen it, go watch it. I don’t want to say too much about it, but it’s so real and alive. It’s truly beautiful, and there’s so much more to it than his coming out. It’s about family, secrets, and not ever being comfortable until you push yourself to be. Some great, great jokes, yes, some long spells without laughs, but you don’t care. You’re looking into the guys heart and soul as he sits there on the stage spilling his guts to you.
I usually like my stand-up rough. (Maybe I’m gay too?) I love a faster pace to a set, much more crackle and pop. Edge. I’ve said that here a lot. Chappelle, Burr, Taylor Tomlinson, Louis C.K., Whitney, Hinchcliffe, Rogan, Shane Gillis, Rock. That’s the pitch and poke I like a special to have. This at first came off as some of the stuff I’ve hated in the past, like some of the woke bullshit that calls itself comedy specials, but he’s so much better than anything in that vein. He isn’t woke and he also isn’t crass, caustic, or the least bit impolite. To me he’s got a vibe of a young Nat King Cole as a stand-up. Debonaire sleek, and soulful. Lyrically perfect.
Directing-wise, it does in fact make me want to hang it up. It was shot at the Blue Note in NYC and lit like a Vermeer painting. Pools and puddles of light bathe the stage, illuminating Jarrod in a warmth that almost feels like a nightclub that’s filling in as an embryo. Allowing us to revel in Carmichael’s rebirth. Chappelle’s ‘Bird’ special from the comedy store main room is one of my favorite specials ever, but this is so different, silky, honest, from the gut, Jazz. This is stand-up as a little one-man film. As I said, lit perfectly, bathing him in a spotlight, his skin as crisp and bright as the honesty he’s spewing. Seated on a stool, leaning over it, washing himself in newfound freedom.
Bryan Washington, in the New Yorker, wrote, ‘the set is a Rubik’s Cube of self-revelation that consistently challenges and astounds, even as it toys with the ways in which seeking laughter can conceal’. I think that’s right on. It’s pain as fresh air. Walking on coals because you know the other side is going to be a place to finally sit down.
I didn’t use Jarrod in the Comedy Store doc. He did a special there. It didn’t ring my bell. Wasn’t bad at all though, and his next two were two leaps forward. I used Louie C.K. instead who had also done a special there in the same time frame. (Maybe I’m a racist as well? Uh, ‘Maybe???’) The truth is it’s even better than his last special, ‘8’, which was stellar. In this one though, he’s a different artist, this isn’t growth, this is someone in transition. A great comic identifies as a genius.
Katheryn VanArendonk in Vulture wrote something about Rothaniel that I think sums it up perfectly for me. “It is a remarkable piece of conceit, craft, performance, and vision, and it’s a truly astonishing way to probe so many ideas that have been bubbling up over the past several years about the role of comedy and how we value authenticity. It’s the kind of special that basically demands you label it “important,” and it is not wrong.”
WATCH’ ROTHANIEL’ ON HBO AND AT HBO MAX.
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