Michael Che in Shame on the devil.
Photo: Netflix / YouTube
It’s been five years since Michael Che released a Netflix special. Last time the mood was ecstatic: in Michael che matters, he bounced excitedly around a pushing stage, dipping his microphone stand like a dancer; a band kept its entry and exit noisy. “I think Hillary Clinton is going to win,” he told this enthusiastic August 2016 crowd. “She’s a white lady. White women take whatever they want. They took Brooklyn! The spectacle was loose and bright. The atmosphere was hot.
By comparison, his last, Shame on the devil, is his special roll-out-of-bed. It’s a conversation on the front steps, a late-night reverie, an outing with a buddy to shoot shit. Without moving from his stool or moving his slump, Che sleeps through his act in the cavernous darkness of the Fox Theater in Oakland. There is no obvious art of selling – or rather, there is the art of selling studied with a relaxed kindness. No one is trying here, man. You know how difficult it was to put on pants with a belt after closing? Just be happy he’s wearing shoes.
And I’m happy, because it feels Shame on the devil a refreshing and depressing experience. I’ve heard of criticisms made more in grief than anger, but Che’s latest is comedy offered that way. The brutal rhythm of Che Saturday Night Live work as a co-writer, the vaudeville rhythms of his HBO Max show, That damn Michael Che – both concerts are exhausting even to think about here in the long tail of the pandemic. Seems strange talking about a set that includes a joke on how to measure her vaginal capacity (it’s a bucket), but Shame on the devil has a calming sort of quality, a lullaby sadness, a rarity in a world of specials that piss you off.
the title of Che, Shame on the devil, involves telling the truth ahead, and there are some deeply felt streaks in the hour-long show: it ends, for example, with some powerful remarks about black sanity. For much of the stage, however, he apologizes and then repeats them, explains and then rolls his eyes. Che barely mentions deaths or illnesses from COVID, but he can seem melancholy and inner, his thoughts lingering on the reviews he has received and whether he thinks they were deserved. He talks a bit about a breakup and claims he’s going to stay single forever. What worries him the most, it seems, are the times when people get angry with him.
When he feels like laughing, he gets them by riffing on squeaky clichés, that is, “reliable material”. Che is sinking into the rules, and I think most of us had five in high school. Did you know that the rules make
the chicks tomatoes Irritable ladies? Lest you think women are from Venus and that’s where he’s going to leave it, Che begins with a long (ha) soft (sorry) section on the penises. “I don’t know why men are so obsessed with their cocks,” he says. “Every guy here has measured his cock before, and I don’t mean just with a ruler. I mean anything that could be in the shape of a cock … Ladies, if you ever go into the bathroom and see the remote in there? You are like, Why is the remote here? Because we must have scale! ” He does not understand why guys are so obsessed with their wangs, yet he’s spent his whole life wondering why they or they Think about it. Uh-huh. The use of the word “ladies” is revealing. There’s a whiff of Jerry Lewis (“Hey, lady!”) And the borscht belt in these gags. Take my girlfriend, please.
Shame on the devil don’t think these are the hard truths, though. The guy and girl schlock is just there to cushion the things he really wants to talk about. He mentions the January 6 violence with mock fear – “It was fucking good looting,” he marvels. He complains of a lack of black leadership. In these sections, which sharpen towards excellence, its manifest exhaustion becomes part of the message. His tired look gives a real advantage to his comments about a racist America, the endless feeling of being unwelcome, the way you always can’t find wave fat in a CVS, the stubborn ignorance white people have about their own neighbors.
Its other dominant theme is criticism. To his infinite credit, Che doesn’t mention “canceling the culture” even when talking about backfire. (He has been rung in the past for saying he loved Trump, who was once nice to him after hosting SNL, and for hinting that he might make a crack about Simone Biles, among others.) He does not laugh at those who criticized him (he reserves this for Instagram), although he notes that he has a dark sense of humor. Instead, he also defends himself well intentioned or swears ignorance. He claims he had never heard of “deadnaming” when he tried on Caitlyn Jenner on SNL, and he says being called a homophobe hurt him. He gives the impression of being genuinely vulnerable to such accusations. “I have gay friends; I work with homosexuals, ”he says. “But then I started to, like, look at myself, like, Well done. Maybe there is something I don’t know? A m Am I homophobic?“Then when the audience reacts, they stop dead, look directly at someone sitting in their eyes and laugh. “When you made that laugh I thought, It’s a gay ass laugh.“It takes a rhythm. “I’m kidding. I’m kidding. It was a joke. I couldn’t pass [it up]. “
Here it is. Che deeply wants to please. This makes him both eager to use an insult if the audience likes him and hurt when people call him. It’s a softer, less cohesive version of Dave Chappelle’s nasty feminism gag – “What the hell could I say that would make these bitches think I hate women?” »- delivered with the pleadings of Che’s younger brother. He shoots the same thing several times. “Have you ever seen a bear?” I figured out what to do… You have to make yourself really tall and you have to make a lot of noise, because bears won’t eat you if they think you’re retarded. The audience laughs. “It’s not a nice word to say, I know, but I only said it because I thought it would make you laugh.” And he did. He’s not getting out of the moment, exactly, but his ungrateful slips a knife in – to every person in the room.
An artist who wants to be loved? A joke-teller who laughs? Get out of here. Che isn’t exactly the first to flatter – his word. But he also has better and deeper stuff than that, and in Shame on the devil, he also talks about it briefly. His ease is his great gift; sometimes it drops thoughts in the listener’s brain which will slowly descend through the mental layers. In the early 2010s, on the much-missed and now-defunct variety show gentrify, who performed every week at (now defunct UCB East), Che made a joke I can’t get out of my head: the funny thing about white liberals I remember he said is that they may take offense to people who are not even in the room. Sometimes my memory turns this joke one way, sometimes another, but each time it gets sharper – I use Che’s line to refine and shape my own thinking. Something this special is probably slowly creeping through me as well, and I won’t recognize it until a few years later. I just wish he didn’t bury it in a bunch of vintage bugs and yell at me because they make that thought damn hard to discern. But at least I hope he’s there – sitting quietly on a stool in the dark of my mind.