TV review: ‘Not Safe with Nikki Glaser’

| Managing Editor

When: Tuesday, 9:30 p.m.
Channel: Comedy Central

I’ll admit it: when I first learned that Comedy Central was debuting “Not Safe with Nikki Glaser,” a new variety talk show about all things sexual, I did not have high hopes. A show exclusively about sex seemed like a cheap ploy for ratings and attention; you don’t exactly need to promise high-quality humor to get people to watch a pretty comedian tell sex jokes.

And I don’t mean to disparage the very talented Nikki Glaser—quite the opposite. When I first heard about “Not Safe,” I thought she was better than this. Glaser has proven her comedic chops through her successful stand-up career and her hosting duties on MTV’s short-lived “Nikki & Sara Live”; I would have much rather seen her behind the “Daily Show” desk than reporting from a foot fetish party. So when I hesitantly tuned in to Comedy Central on Tuesday night, I was preparing myself for disappointment. Luckily, “Not Safe” exceeded my expectations.

Not unlike its subject matter, the premiere starts out slow but eventually builds to a comedic climax. We’re first introduced to Glaser through a somewhat tedious monologue about her sexual awakening at age 13, which was sparked by a certain risque roller-coaster scene in the movie “Fear.” We then meet the episode’s two comedian guests, Rachel Feinstein and Rory Scovel. These comedians are pretty much just there to provide additional comic relief, but I’d take that over a panel of B-list celebrities or self-proclaimed “sexperts” any day. Glaser and her guests banter in front of their studio audience for a while—sounding a bit like middle school boys at times—before the show really gets into the good stuff.

In her first pre-taped segment, Glaser takes a unique approach to the topic of “friend-zoning.” Wondering whether she has been accidentally friend-zoning any of her closest pals, Glaser invites several of her friends—male and female—to answer questions like “Would you have sex with me?” while hooked up to a lie detector. (Spoiler alert: the answer is an overwhelming “yes.”) Her friends’ bashful responses are entertaining, but the unexpected star of the bit is John, the mustachioed man administering the polygraph test, who chimes in with such hilarious tidbits as “Fingering’s for guys with small wieners.” The segment doesn’t make the leap to criticizing the oftentimes-sexist notion of friend-zoning, but it does encourage people to just be honest about their feelings, damn it.

From there, “Not Safe” moves into by far the best segment of its pilot episode, a game called Tinder Tapout. Glaser introduces us to Kayla, a made-up Tinder user and “the most horrible woman imaginable.” The game involves reading Kayla’s Tinder conversation with a real match named R.L. (a self-described “bad boy with [his] s— together”) and having the show’s comedian guests guess at which point R.L. stops responding. The gameplay aspect isn’t all that exciting, but the conversation between Kayla and R.L. left me laughing out loud. It’s clear that Glaser has some really solid writers on her staff—gems from Kayla include “three [kids]. One with Jesus. Global warming took her. Hot car.” The show wholeheartedly commits to the bit, allowing the interaction to escalate in hilarious, unexpected ways. Perhaps the best thing to come out of the segment, though, is @PartyB—Kayla, my new favorite Twitter handle. Follow Kayla for important updates like “I only drink lime juice and keystone premium because it tastes like the ball pit I lost my virginity in.”

“Not Safe” shines when it allows its sex-themed premises to merely serve as set-ups for original, well-crafted jokes. If you’re looking for subversive or groundbreaking comedy, you won’t find it here—try “Inside Amy Schumer”—but you will find an approach to sex that is lighthearted, funny and unexpectedly clever. Much of this is thanks to the show’s enthusiastic host. Contrary to my initial reservations, Glaser, a self-described “curious perv,” seems very much in her element on “Not Safe.” Her easygoing and candid attitude set a pleasant tone for the show; she aims to be a sex-positive best friend rather than just a smirking source of dick jokes.

A show like “Not Safe” could easily devolve into something akin to a dirtier version of “Tosh.0,” but so far, Glaser and her writers have stayed mostly out of the gutter with their clever and curious approach to sexual humor. The pilot has its high and low points, but hopefully, as the season continues, the show will figure out what works and abandon what doesn’t. And if things don’t work out for “Not Safe,” maybe we can get a spin-off about @PartyB—Kayla—there’s no shortage of material there.