So the proverb does explain that telling the truth shames the devil, even when you feel a need to conceal said truths. Is that what Saturday Night Live co-head writer and Weekend Update co-anchor Michael Che means by titling his second Netflix stand-up special Shame The Devil? That he’s going to unleash some hard truths upon us? Or is this going to be one of those titles that dares critics not to use it against its author?
The Gist: Even people who claim to no longer watch Saturday Night Live undoubtedly know who Che is. SNL remains too powerful of a cultural touchstone to not know who its biggest players are. They wind up in advertising campaigns, movies, talk shows, and sometimes host award shows, as Che did by presiding over the 2018 Primetime Emmy Awards alongside his Weekend Update co-anchor, Colin Jost.
This is Che’s second Netflix stand-up special, coming five years after Michael Che Matters. Michael Che: Shame The Devil also comes hot off the heels of a six-episode sketch show he wrote and starred in for HBO Max, That Damn Michael Che.
What Comedy Specials Will It Remind You Of?: This is a pretty straight-forward special, directed by Kristian Mercado (who has been in high demand in recent years, also shooting stand-up hours for Aida Rodriguez, Phoebe Robinson, and London Hughes since the pandemic). Some of Che’s material may remind you of other comedians, but I’ll get into that in a hot minute.
Memorable Jokes: Che threw a tantrum five years ago and tried to get me banned from The Comedy Cellar because I quoted a couple of his jokes from Michael Che Matters on this site, so let’s not repeat that nonsense. Che says things while sitting on a stool in Oakland, and the people in the seats laugh every so often.
I probably can get away with telling you that Che references and explains how he got into trouble for a Weekend Update joke “dead-naming” Caitlyn Jenner, while somehow dead-naming her again in the process. Even if he did land a couple of solid points and jokes afterward. Simone Biles also gets a passing mention later, but not in the way Che’s trolling use of Instagram Stories teased. Che also tells a story about the time he appeared on Sesame Street that has become even more topical thanks to the show announcing its first Asian-American Muppet.
Our Take: There’s certainly nothing in this hour as memorable as his “all buildings matter” metaphor, which continues to remain shareable five years later.
In Che’s defense, though, his “day job” writing and performing with SNL has kept him plenty busy. Add to that the sketch show he pitched, developed, wrote and starred in just earlier this year for HBO Max, and it’s understandable to wonder what’s left in the tank for him to say in his stand-up? Let me make clear here, too: Even on Update, Che’s performance has risen to a new level just this season, as he’s writing and choosing stronger and more pointed jokes and standing (er, sitting) behind them all.
He’s nowhere near as bold nor as confident in this hour of stand-up.
Symbolic of this? His opening chunk, devoted almost entirely to dick jokes. When Che finally pivots to a new topic, it’s the pandemic restrictions for the taping, to which he says: “I just asked for it to be fully vaxxed because I wanted this audience to understand my jokes.” That gets a big roar from the Bay Area crowd. Obviously. Then he laughs at himself, acknowledging that up to that point, it didn’t take much to understand his “15 minutes” of dick jokes. “I’m pandering,” he adds.
The rest of the set contains a few really solid premises (see: his reasoning for why America didn’t care about the mental health of black Americans until now; or a couple of bits in which he relates different behaviors to one’s propensity for wearing a condom). But the bulk of it feels like leftovers.
Not just jokes or ideas that didn’t make the cut for SNL or his HBO Max series, but also premises that other comedians already have covered better and funnier.
Che’s thoughts on black patriotism and the national anthem immediately made me look up Roy Wood Jr.’s chunk on both of those subjects. This bit of Che’s about misunderstanding women’s periods and menstrual cycles…
…only reminded me that Michelle Wolf packed many more jokes into it, with more flourish and a more enthusiastic response from her audience.
I don’t mean to bash Che’s hour, but it’s just nothing special, either. Perhaps if he had spent another six months to a year touring and developing the hour, it might’ve had more punch and something resembling a unique point of view. This just felt like a Netflix money grab. Even his closer ends with a whimper of a callback. No big laugh. No big exclamation point. Just Che on the stool chuckling to himself, giving a stage note: “Alright, let’s cut it. Good night.”
Che didn’t need to release this hour when it wasn’t fully fleshed out, and he clearly doesn’t feel like he needs to do much online or onstage to keep getting those outrage clicks and those checks cashing. Stir the pot, watch us boil.
Our Call: SKIP IT. If you want to watch Che on Netflix, go back to his previous special. If you just want to watch Che tell new jokes, he’ll pop up on SNL again soon enough.
Sean L. McCarthy works the comedy beat for his own digital newspaper, The Comic’s Comic; before that, for actual newspapers. Based in NYC but will travel anywhere for the scoop: Ice cream or news. He also tweets @thecomicscomic and podcasts half-hour episodes with comedians revealing origin stories: The Comic’s Comic Presents Last Things First.
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