Back in the ‘90s, “sex-positive” was a really big deal. Anka Radakovich held court over at Details magazine with her pioneering sexpert column; vibrators like “The Rabbit” made it into the popular vernacular via shows like “Sex and the City”; and stores that sold them, like Toys in Babeland and Good Vibrations, took adult toystores out of the creep zone and made them female-friendly. HBO’s “Real Sex” documented various sexual subcultures in a non-judgy way.
I found myself thinking fondly back to this era as I watched the first episode of “Not Safe with Nikki Glaser” on Comedy Central, which debuted on Tuesday. The 31-year-old comic is a contemporary and close friend of Amy Schumer, and has been similarly dubbed a “sex comic” because of her willingness to talk about her own relationships — and anatomy — onstage. Though she’s pushed back against that label, echoing Schumer’s dismissive remark that “I get labeled a sex comic. But if a guy got up onstage and pulled his dick out, everybody would say, ‘He’s a thinker,'” Glaser is unquestionably interested in the subject. After all, it’s what got her this show.
But her take on it seems different to me from most of the fare on Comedy Central — or from comedians like Schumer, who tend toward skewering the many ways in which sex can be disappointing for women — or the way in which they get shamed for liking it. Rather, Glaser’s taking the more optimistic stance of, “Sex is fun! We should all be having more!” in her exploration of various proclivities, including her own. “Not Safe” isn’t a perfect show by any means — it feels like it’s still working out its tone, and when in doubt it goes a little cruel — but it has potential to be a throwback to a time when it was still considered cool to just talk in an upfront, non-snarky way about women and sexual pleasure.
The first episode, “Carpe Do ‘Em,” is divided into a few segments, some of which work better than others. In the first, Glaser discusses “friend zoning” with guest comics Rachel Feinstein and Rory Scovel, which leads into a pre-taped segment (which you may have already caught on YouTube), in which she polygraphs her friends to see which of them want to sleep with her. On the page, that sounds like a cringingly narcissistic premise, but Glaser pulls it off with an impressive amount of charm — even when the polygraph administrator admits that he, too, wants to sleep with her (which I hope was staged, because if not, that’s actually quite creepy). Is it revolutionary that all of these people want to sleep with the generally attractive, sex-obsessed Glaser? No. But I think she brings an element of sincerity to the scene that helps it become more about how much most people think about sex than it does about amplifying her own allure.
That said, I didn’t love the conclusion at the end that all guys need to do to get out of the friend zone is to “be aggressive!” I don’t think they mean it that way, but language matters.
In the next segment, Glaser and her guests play a Tinder game in which they try to guess how far her fictional, horrible female profile subject can get before being shut down by a guy. Unsurprisingly, it’s pretty far. This was my least favorite part of the show, and I don’t even really understand how it fits into Glaser’s mission statement. It seems tacked on by Comedy Central execs who wanted something a little meaner — and it delivers, with the man trapped by Glaser’s profile ending up sitting in the audience at the end. On one level, this is a tacit acceptance by the dude that he’s OK with having been comedy fodder for Glaser, but he looks profoundly uncomfortable while she’s joking with him, and I don’t blame him.
Finally, Glaser goes to a foot-fetish party, after giving the audience a rundown on how “busted” her feet really are (she’s got major bunions). On her way in, she makes a crack about how “most AMBER alerts end here,” which somewhat undermines her good-faith attendance as someone who really wants to learn about what other people like. After that, though, she gets into it with a few patrons willing to appear onscreen, letting one man give her a very enthusiastic foot rub and bravely baring her foot to another who’s just moments before said how much he hates bunions. On the whole, Glaser is a game interviewer who doesn’t seem fazed — until one guy describes to her how he likes to put pointy things underneath women’s toenails. Unfortunate ambassador for the foot fetish community? Maybe. But Glaser’s aghast reaction is fairly understandable.
In future episodes, Glaser has said she will explore “dick pics” and open relationships, using her own boyfriend as a guinea pig for the latter. I’m curious to see where it goes, and I think her intentions seem generally pro-women — she also recently penned an article for Cosmopolitan in which she talked about learning to love her own vagina, which she had once wanted to have labiaplasty on. With a little surer footing (pun somewhat intended), “Not Safe” could be another unique female voice on the increasingly egalitarian Comedy Central.