After the sexual harassment incident that occurred last week during a comedy routine at Purdue University’s Welcome Week, clearly lines have been drawn — and for good reason. Now, a plethora of jokes that were once thought funny are no longer considered socially acceptable, lewd comments about audience members being near the top of that list.
Generally, however, comedians prove that those types of jokes aren’t necessary to create laughter. There are other routes to humor, and Iliza Shlesinger’s newest comedy special, “Elder Millennial,” avoids questionable content and maintains a sharp wit while exploring socially relevant scenarios. She makes bird calls, too, if you’re into that.
Shlesinger’s comedy dances between teasing stereotypes and asserting that people can and should be who they want. She hyperbolizes and then swings back to remind the audience that, ultimately, the way someone lives is up to them, and that the way they are is correct.
She leans heavily on female empowerment. It’s equal parts endearing and hysterical, as she sets up the jokes with an almost self-reflective point, even delving into her own experience trying on wedding dresses and sobbing while FaceTiming her mom.
At another part during “Elder Millennial,” the comedian talks about what it’s like telling people that she is engaged. She describes walking through a Trader Joe’s on a Sunday night and how all the single ladies can feel the vibrations of her engagement rock.
“The ring! It mocks us!” Shlesinger exclaims in a Gollum-esque voice, hunched over with her fingers gnarled into claws. Her phrasing is funny because she leaves open the possibility that she was there once, too, and it never feels like she is taking a shot in a malicious or indecent manner. She expresses a sort of sympathy with the people she describes.
At one point during the previous bit, she says, “I don’t know a single girl who’s out there that’s like, ‘I hate being single. I don’t get it. I wash with ham and cat hair, where is he?'” She throws out that there are no secrets to attracting men, and she uses hyperboles to acknowledge that each person is trying their best.
Not a female? Don’t worry, Shlesinger’s content is fun for the whole group. For instance, she knows that there’s a little creature that lives inside us all that wants to do whatever the hell it wants behind closed doors, and she hilariously exposes our inner she-dragons in “Elder Millennial.”
Much like the party goblins that she references in previous specials, such as her 2016 special, “Confirmed Kills,” everyone has a nasty side, and that’s totally OK. Because she can’t make them shine, Shlesinger instead tries to make the dark, gross side of a person funny and acceptable. If all else fails, at least there’s a room full of people that can relate to wanting to fart freely in their own apartment and eat a whole sleeve of Oreos.
Her humor isn’t all people-related. Sometimes it’s just Shlesinger making a weird noise in place of a word to make the audience laugh, and it works because she is very good at making odd, goat-like noises. She also strays into Animal Planet territory, where she draws comparisons between people and nature scenes. I wasn’t kidding earlier about her bit where she imitates different bird calls and then botches the warbler in the best way. There really is something for everyone in her special.
Shlesinger champions intelligent discourse on being a woman. The narratives surrounding her jokes play as commentary on what it’s like being a woman in a variety of situations. When describing how guys talk about the first time they saw their significant other, she brings up that their short (and inaccurate) narrative of the story becomes the girl’s reality.
She says, “It’s this hope that we’re going to be seen and that it’s going to happen for us.” She then dives into fairy tales, where the princesses get saved. Even that statement is passive, and she points out how that line of thinking is problematic.
When talking about Sleeping Beauty, she says, “Terrible moral. What do we take away from that? Generations of men, like, ‘Naw, if you just kiss ‘em while they’re sleeping, they’re forever grateful … Officer.'”
Shlesinger, of course, doesn’t fail to punctuate her messages with humor. She’s a comedian, after all, and exposing and joking about commonplace issues is what draw the crowds. As a result, she’s developed the ability to codeswitch depending on the material: humorous for lighthearted bits, somber for serious ones.
This tendency sets her apart from other comics. She maintains an awareness of when to lay on the goat noises and when to back up and evaluate why there’s even a need to make fun of something in the first place. The timing is key because too much of one or the other, and she loses the audience.
Spending Saturday night watching @iliza Schlesinger’s Elder Millennial on Netflix – and if you need a brilliant, hysterical, proudly feminist comedian she’s it 👏👏👏
— Laurie Silverstein (@laursilverstein) August 19, 2018
Shlesinger’s “Elder Millennial” will no doubt make you self-reflect as well as laugh to the point that your abs hurt. And she doesn’t need to make you or anyone else uncomfortable to have fun.