I saw Michelle Wolf at the Comedy Cellar in New York City. I had not seen her live before, and I had only seen the video of her White House Correspondents’ Dinner set. At the Comedy Cellar, she went last in the lineup and was by far the best comic of the night and the only comic who was getting consistent, quality laughs. The material she did that night is on this special and it’s some of the best stand-up I’ve heard this year.
She opens with a story about seeing otters, posting about it, and receving a terse comment from a woman saying that “otters rape baby seals.” This joke sets the tone of the set, which is willing to make jokes about both ‘cancel culture’ and rape with equal critism. She says that we shouldn’t care about animal rape because they’re animals and rape isn’t a concept for them. While starting a set on this topic might come off as shocking, its real effect is to ease us into the more down-to-earth and human-centric topics she’ll address in the rest of the set.
In one joke about men having periods, she ends the joke by saying that male tampons would probably have superheroes on the packaging. The first tag is about Spider-man, and the second is about Batman. Then she has a few jokes about men getting mad — not at the period stuff but at the combination of Marvel and DC comics. She’s great at ramping up tension until a point, where she relieves it with silliness. While the topic of men having periods is a little worn, Wolf’s ability to take it somewhere silly and be playful in a way that keeps men on board is impressive.
About halfway through the special she goes into jokes about her abortion. She talks about how casual it was for her, that she got it and drank half a La Croix after. Her ability to take topics which usually command such a serious tone, even in other comedians’ sets, and just be playful and silly with them is wonderful to watch. She quickly adds a tag — “I also think that’s a great advertisement for LaCroix” — which also highlights how even when she is getting laughs, she doesn’t let up on the jokes.
Her ability to variate her voice sells jokes that would otherwise fall flat. I saw one reddit comment saying that her voice sounds like a female Gilbert Gottfried, which I think goes too far, but she does have a silly voice. Just by deepening her voice a little bit, or speeding up her speech, she’s able to generate a laugh. During one segment, she creates a “millennial voice” that is hilariously juxtaposed with the setting of the Titanic.
To me, she represents the other side of comics like Mark Normand who tell tight, well thought-out jokes, but often have the message “women are so annoying and frivolous.” When I left a show Normand was headlining, even though I laughed and thought he was funny, I also felt bad. I felt like he had been laughing at me for the better part of an hour. This is how I imagine men would feel leaving Wolf’s special. It’s not for them, it speaks to another group’s frustration, but it is still quality comedy.
Wolf’s comedy is relentless. She doesn’t stop just because a joke has gotten a laugh, but goes for all the laughs a situation can offer and delivers them sharply and expressively. While I don’t think Wolf is saying anything strikingly new, she is giving us the best jokes about how a lot of women are feeling right now. But also, I don’t think most men are saying anything new, it’s just not the novelty that truly sharp comedy that expresses women’s frustration is, so it’s harder to notice. I don’t think anyone called out Nate Bargatze’s “I’m so tired of my wife” jokes, even though that’s the most overdone idea I can personally think of in comedy. Wolf delivers her jokes in this special that before saying anything political or doing something new for the sake of doing something new, is just relentlessly focused on being hilarious.