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Engagement Versus Laughter And Other Comedy Dilemmas, With Christian Finnegan

This is Jim Breuer performing at the New York Comedy Club in 2016, but the photo is taken from far enough away that you can pretend it's someone funnier.
Noam Galai/Getty Images for 2016 Advertising Week New York

There is something jarring about how seriously people take comedy and comedians in this moment. The specific ways in which all that sucks, and the extent to which it aligns with other lousy trends in the culture—the rise of weirdly servile and reflexively combative fan cultures; treating entertainment as a degraded and degrading branch of politics; the broader collapse of every single thing into joyless rote culture war bullshit—is somehow not enough to make it interesting.

But if you are someone who has enjoyed comedy and comedians, like enjoyed laughing at the jokes without mistaking the person making those jokes for an oracle or your own parent, there is something kind of sad about it. Not just because it rhymes with every other grim and sour thing in the broader culture, but because it is such a conscious opting-out from one of the most elemental joys of being alive. Only a very unhappy person would opt to stan when they could just laugh, is my old guy opinion on this, but there’s also the question of what’s in it for the comedians themselves, both the big-ticket acts that eschew jokes in favor of delivering strange vinegary stump speeches about stuff they saw online and the smaller fry steering consciously into “working edgelord.” This week, we got some valuable insight on that question, among other things, from comedian Christian Finnegan, who I am happy to report remains in the Telling Funny Jokes camp in his new special Show Your Work.

Finnegan’s special is about comedy as a job—he’s been a working comic for years and runs a comedy club with his wife in Astoria, Queens—and the ways in which that job has gotten increasingly difficult over the last 18 months, but it’s also about the jokes he tells and the ways in which life is strange and funny. He had interesting things to say about all of that, and about the deranging imperatives of social media self-performance, and also about the struggle to choose the real, good things about life over their crappy streaming simulations. You will have to get through some talk about the New York Knicks to get there, but I promise it’s in there. He’s a smart guy and it was an earnest, wide-ranging conversation in which I did probably in retrospect a little bit too much talking. I was excited. You can’t start a podcast by talking about Knicks-era Zach Randolph and expect me to remain calm. I am who I am, and I have my tendencies.

Christian was also kind enough to join us in the Funbag, and we all splashed around in that fetid pool quite merrily. An ostensibly news-you-can-use question about what to do if you find yourself having to quarantine devolved into the uniquely unpleasant feeling of watching too much television and giving yourself a soul-ache. The ethics and best practices of farting in the office in this uneasy cultural moment were debated. Drew talked about telling his kids to buzz off so he could finish playing with their Legos. Laughs were had. It wasn’t that deep, really, but also it doesn’t really have to be.

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