Dallas — For every band that makes it big, there are fans that have been there from day one. For those fans, there’s an “I knew them when” pride in having gotten bonus joy before the world caught up.
Similarly, I take pride in being a huge Michelle Wolf fan before she was made famous by her controversial White House Correspondence Dinner speech. This was thanks to her five-episode Comedy Central web series Now Hiring. I watched that series to death and fell in love not just with her humor, but with her cadence: a sort of excited, high-pitched jangle of barely held-back laughter—and irreverence.
So it was gratifying to get over an hour of that delivery at the Texas Theatre on Nov. 10. Her material was tremendously funny and energetic, and there was a sense of hard work in evidence—she didn’t go for many easy laughs or one-liners, and she never stumbled or wavered (comedians who do screw up and then joke about it are a dime-a-dozen, but maybe for good reason; read on).
Most of her set consisted of a startling—usually pessimistic or nihilistic—statement. For example, moms these days parent TOO well and ought to be both harsher and more willing to be absent, and then explains her premise in a way that is both hilarious and sensible; in this case, her tongue-in-cheek bad parenting suggestion is to make adulthood, which lasts much longer, seem less awful. (“Everything is magic when you’re a kid. When you’re an adult, it’s more about, ‘Wow. Bad s**t happens all the time. When do we get to drink?’”)
Another example: Wolf professes to hate the body-positivity movement, something that would seem surprising if you are familiar with her politics. But again, she doesn’t really mean it THAT way. It’s just an attention-grabber to get to the heart of what REALLY annoys her, which is that everyone-has-their-own-beautiful-appearance attitudes diminish more substantive attributes, such as skills. “Guys call me ugly on Twitter every day, and I like it, because if I’m ugly and they still know me, I must be a pretty good comedian.”
That joke, however, dovetails into the one thing I didn’t like about the show: Wolf was honest, but not vulnerable. If you check out her web series, you’ll see she’s happy to play dumb, awkward, and ultimately relatable (if only with riotous hyperbole) and lovable.
She doesn’t do that in her current show. She doesn’t “let you in,” as it were, and she’s rarely the butt of her own joke or otherwise self-deprecating.
That’s her choice. She’s both guarded about her privacy and wary of personality cults, and she talks about the latter as it relates to her Instagram followers being devastated when she says or does something that runs afoul of their values, when they are but strangers to her. But it’s still a bit of a shame, and it reduces her truth bombs to truth BBs.
Because while it’s wonderful enough to see a master comedian like her at work, I suspect if she pulled back the curtain a little bit more and placed more emphasis on connection than repartee, she’d find herself in the pantheon of greats.