Drew Michael obfuscates comedy as a genre
During his new 51-minute HBO special, Drew Michael ropes you into a confusing relationship—and it is awful. You cannot possibly know if your role is that of a friend, significant other, therapist or self, distinctions that are often blurred in reality. Michael paces in a room devoid of light with no audience and unloads what I hope are his darkest thoughts. He declares a wish that his mother is satisfied sexually, he contemplates empathy through one very long joke about suicide and he elucidates a life with herpes. Most, if not all, of Michael’s talking points encourage the viewer to withdraw from the performance and the accompanying pseudo-relationship because there was no trust established previously. If you are, in fact, the friend or the significant other or the therapist, you lack the background that might earn you the privilege of fielding Michael’s very sensitive thoughts. And as is the case when you receive vulnerability without having earned it, there arises a desire to flee.
As footage of Michael is spliced with recordings of actress Suki Waterhouse portraying Michael’s girlfriend and speaking to him through a webcam, it seems that he wants us to examine technology’s effect on relationships. They carry on amicably, avoiding any serious topics, and when these sweet clips are done, Michael returns to the strange viewer with what are ostensibly his most somber realizations.
It might be easiest for Michael, and everyone else for that matter, to be vulnerable with the people who care the least. Technology makes it so that we might stay connected in the most perfunctory sense to the people we care about, only to maintain a sense of all-crippling fear at the possibility of unveiling those thoughts that weigh heaviest in our minds. Michael takes these thoughts to an audience of strangers who might as well be his girlfriend or therapist or mother, because like each of these figures, we too are capable of leaving him and his uncomfortable thoughts at a moment’s notice.
The frustrations at play in this special concern both cultural and individual identity. There appears to be a crisis in both cases, which stems from the basis of our personal relationships. As Michael presents himself to the viewer, we occupy extremes of a spectrum: we either present a false self, holding our more serious ruminations in our minds and wishing that they never escape, or we surrender too much to the wrong people, forcing strangers to sit with us in our darkness until they find a quick exit.
Michael identifies fear as our motivation. More precisely, he names the fear of rejection as the leading force, which drives us from vulnerability—a notion that if we reveal our authentic selves, everyone will flee.
I still don’t know how all of this fits into comedy. There aren’t any big laughs during these 51 minutes, and you might even feel a bit sad when it’s all over. If anything, the laughs are on a delay and only come with reflection. And that might be the project’s greatest strength—that it inspires reflection. Empathy, authenticity and vulnerability could fix everything, and maybe it’s hilarious that we keep looking the other away. Maybe self-destruction is funny because it can’t be anything else; when you’re in a dark room with only your thoughts, you can’t be anything but yourself.