Joel McHale definitely has more than a million dollars right? I mean there are a handful of jokes in this show that makes you think that. So I guess I’m good at writing less than stellar writing on this one. I didn’t enjoy Live from Pyongyang. I saw Joel McHale more than half a decade ago on the University of Kentucky’s campus, and remember being unimpressed, so I’m not totally unbiased. I don’t there is a ton of material here, and what is here is surface level comedy, or “Hey I remember when this funny thing happened.”
McHale stands in front of a green background, the kind of green my parents painted out in the living room. He’s real edgy like that. His hair is done up to make him look like a cartoon duck. The room feels pretty intimate and isn’t the usual theatre setting. Instead there looks to be tables and food available. He pops off the soft background, and green is relatively unused color for comedy specials.
Most of this special is just McHale recounting various shows he had good crowd work with. Look, we don’t want to hear about how you had a great comeback, we want to see that happen. If all these interactions happened, why doesn’t he just record more of his shows and make special that is just the best of those interactions, or at least post those as clips. Mostly, I think, it’s because they don’t happen. McHale tells that in Oklahoma he encounters a rowdy wounded vet who won’t stop talking during his show, and in Nashville the audience claps when he brings up that they were a slave state. These things don’t feel real. Maybe he had interaction like that with a wounded vet, but on stage? I don’t know. I do think this makes the special’s name into a joke. The special is shot in California, not Pyongyang, but him discussing all the various places he’s done comedy before led me to think that he was going to bring up international shows. This doesn’t happen. Part of why I watched this special is because I thought a special shot in an non-american city from an american stand up could be interesting. Sigh.
Later in the set, McHale discusses a time he was interviewed in LA, and the interviewer mistook him for Daniel Tosh. I think recognizing the similarities between the is essential for his special, as Tosh is more famous. But once again, he does it with a story that is performed as if it is grounded in reality but lacks the logic of reality. The funniest part of this story is that he admits that people mistake him for Daniel Tosh. That jokes shouldn’t take more than a moment to tell, and you’ve heard other comics tell at the top of their sets with a self deprecating quickness that moves things along to their jokes. Here, it’s treated as a main joke. In fact it’s one of the jokes they use during the trailer. You see other comics make jokes like to get people used to them, not as the best joke of the set.
McHale does a flair for swift word choices and has consistent delivery. He comes off as sarcastic but considerably less mean than Tosh. He is enthusiastic and able to switch from emotional beats with quickness. He is fine, even good at performing his comedy, but his idea on what is funny to listen to for an hour needs refinement. If he gave us more stories about his family this special would work better for me.
All in all it just doesn’t feel like there is much material in this special. A lot of stories about things that did happen, or that he said happened, which he uses to voice his judgemental views on geographies outside of LA. For me, it’s exhausting to hear him mostly talk down about places for a full hour, without embracing anything other than his children.