Easy as it might be to lump it all into one category, not all standup on Netflix is created equal. In 2018 alone, the service has made available a new offering every week to fuel the interests (and algorithmic preferences) of comedy die-hards and casual viewers alike.
Some of these come in the form of star-driven, one-night-only events, others in small collections of multiple specials. This week brings the arrival of “The Comedy Lineup,” the second omnibus grouping of bite-sized sets designed to give audiences more new favorites for their time. Unlike its companion collection “The Standups,” episodes in “The Comedy Lineup” are an even more digestible 15 minutes versus the half hours that came earlier in the year from people like Aparna Nancherla, Gina Yashere, and Kyle Kinane.
With that more condensed timeframe comes an even wider variety of comics on display in “The Comedy Lineup,” which brings together eight comedians, all recorded live in front of an Atlanta audience back in February. One of the first indications that makes this collection something worth experiencing in full is that the gathered crowd isn’t a boosted audience designed to give laughs unconditionally. If the goal is to bring a comedy club atmosphere into a living room, one thing this collection does is show that jokes don’t always hit every time. But the reason that these pros get a platform like this is what they can do when those situations arise. (Watch what Tim Dillon does when a single audience member boos the concept of winter or gives a less-than-tepid response to him being from Long Island.)
15 minutes can still be a perilously short amount of time to make an indelible first impression, but this setup does reward comics who come right out of the gate with a lot of energy. The nice thing about this collection is that doesn’t necessarily mean people who are screaming and being confrontational with the audience. It translates to people who really start right out of the gate with a good hook and can establish some confidence with the audience right away, the way Sabrina Jalees does when talking about her wife and new daughter.
Like most specials from this year, “The Comedy Lineup” featured players balance the line between topical and timeless. Most of the comics touch on #MeToo material in one way or another. There’s even a bit of an overlap between two comics talking about using keys as a balled-fist deterrent for would-be attackers.
The best thing about collections like “The Comedy Lineup” is that it doesn’t it doesn’t just cater to one style. These performers aren’t being pigeonholed into the same rhythms or deliveries just because they’re all under the same Netflix banner. Taylor Tomlinson’s rapid-fire approach to something like selfies in the disposable camera age gets just as big a laugh as Jalees’ closing anecdote about a strip club encounter.
With the contracted format and the array of different voices, there’s a little more visual inventiveness on display in “The Comedy Lineup” than in “The Standups.” The half-hour format still skews a little more towards the traditional midnight Comedy Central set, while this one takes a little more freedom with a shorter runtime. There are shots with a front-row view and camera setups from the back that get the full audience in frame (not to mention a better view for some of the comic’s 360-degree bits. There’s a snap zoom on one of Ian Karmel’s jokes that manages to make the strongest set of the bunch even better. Even the visual look of the comedian’s signatures over the name in the title gives a little bit more personality to each performer’s entrance, even when the intro song is all the same.
What “The Comedy Lineup” has in conciseness, it occasionally loses in forcing some of these comics to trim down their best material. You’re left with the feeling that you could probably see a few more minutes of Phil Wang talking about translating overconfident conversations in Chinese or some more of Jak Knight’s midflight revelations.
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Still, if the emphasis is on getting an audience attention very quickly, very few of these sets are frontloaded. Stick with them to the end of the 15 minutes and the reward is some of the best material across the entire hour and a half. Wang‘s bit about an impending invasion, Sam Jay’s evidence for why some people are aliens, and a deconstructed closer from Karmel all finish their respective entries on a very high note.
That last example highlights another reason worth giving “The Comedy Lineup” the full comprehensive try. Even in small chunks, there’s still room for pulling back the curtain, like the tiny moment of Michelle Buteau acknowledging the Steadicam operator trailing behind her before kicking things off with a great Steve Harvey joke. Shorter doesn’t have to mean sanitized, and that gives each of these comedians a solid, welcome introduction to an even bigger audience.
“The Comedy Lineup” is now available to stream on Netflix.