“C-sections are like the DiGiorno of pregnancy,” comedian Nick Thune deadpans early on in his new special Nick Thune: Folk Hero, “because it’s not delivery…but it’s gonna still smell like a delivery.”
Such a joke gives a general idea of what to expect from the Seattle-born comedian’s latest, which is currently streaming exclusively on Netflix. Thune reportedly spent his entire marketing budget on a single billboard in rural Oregon.
If that weren’t evidence enough that Thune is not your conventional comedian, it becomes readily apparent by his appearance and presentation. With his prominent beard, clear horn-rimmed glasses and tan corduroy suit, he looks more—per the special’s title—like an indie-folk rock troubadour than a stand-up. Adding to the image are the various guitars he noodles with over the course of his routine.
Anchored by Thune’s strong absurdist tendencies, his style veers from rattling off a series of non-sequitur jokes à la Demetri Martin and Steven Wright, to longer storytelling bits, as when he recites the increasingly deranged letters he wrote to the seven-year-old brother of an ex-girlfriend.
Though Thune does a good job of differentiating himself from his influences, the special as a whole comes across as a bit of a mixed bag. Thune’s one-off jokes—while mostly solid—don’t quite have the same punch as similar ones by the aforementioned Martin. Nor do his offbeat long-form routines, including his sporadic interactions with audience members in the front row, contain quite the level of Brecht-like surrealism that made early Zach Galifiankias performances so bizarrely hilarious. Occasionally a joke, as in one random tangent about a British person waking up with a bloody nose, will feel almost intentionally confounding in its structure. Thune, to his credit, seems very much aware that his stylings may not be everyone’s cup of tea.
“I’d say 12 percent of you loved that joke, he says, following one math-related bit. “12 percent…I love that number. Other comedians might pull me aside and say, ‘Nick, 12 percent’s not enough, you got to get 100 percent of the audience behind everything you say.’ I don’t look at it that way. I look at it like milk fat percentage. 12 percent milk fat? Astronomical. That’s why I judge all my jokes by milk fat percentage.”
Perhaps in some way the ragged, somewhat unpolished quality of the jokes is meant to be part of the charm. In any case, Thune more than makes up for the special’s weaker moments with his show’s final set piece, which involves a long-form story about his experiences with a fire. Without spoiling the bit, it manages to bring together all the seemingly disparate elements that he has been seeding for the past 35 minutes, thus making the entire special feel much more inter-connected in retrospect.
Folk Hero reveals Nick Thune as a strong, unique voice despite several stretches that seem a bit rough around the edges. It’s certainly an engaging enough special that any serious comedy fans not previously aware of Thune should take notice and see what he does next.