It’s not inherently a problem that comedians tend to talk about the same subjects. Most people think about relationships, politics and pop culture on a daily basis, so if your job is writing jokes about your life you’re naturally going to wind up writing jokes about the stuff that basically everybody has to deal with. The trick is to frame and deliver it in a way that nobody else can, with your own unique outlook and voice. Emmy Blotnick pulls that off in her half-hour Comedy Central special, which is as genially awkward as she is.
There are no overt politics here, even though Blotnick writes for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Those other two topics dominate Blotnick’s 20 minutes and change, though. The first half is mostly about pop culture, from Wheel of Fortune to pop music, which Blotnick uses as a lens into her own awkwardness and the culture of selling insecurity to women. When she mentions the infamous “self-potato” clip from Wheel, it’s not a lazy pop culture reference but a riff on her own depression. Her jokes about Max Martin, the Swedish songwriter who’s worked with almost every major woman pop star of the last 20 or so years, start with the standard bemused observations about a foreign man writing from the viewpoint of American teenage girls, but wind up as an indictment of how magazines like Cosmopolitan prey on women’s anxiety. Blotnick routinely starts from a general, familiar place before moving into something more pointed and personal, all without ever changing her quiet, self-deprecating tone.
Her relationship material feels a bit more anonymous. She does a similar trick with Bumble and pick-up lines as she does with Max Martin using Cosmo to get into women’s heads, turning an obvious bit about women not being used to starting a conversation with random guys into a critique of negging pick-up artist goons. Like the Martin bit, she drops that final punchline in almost like an aside, which makes it more surprising and more powerful. Mostly, though, her jokes about men on dating apps all being DJs, or about the way modern technology makes long distance dating both easier and more frustrating, lack the spark of the special’s first half, no matter how funny they still are.
It might be the nature of how these Comedy Central specials are shot, but it seems like Blotnick doesn’t quite connect with the audience until well into the second half. It almost feels like they aren’t even there—we see them and hear them laughing, but Blotnick seems to be looking over them, reciting her jokes at a steady clip without really acknowledging them. That lends the special an odd, stilted, almost inert feeling, like the performer and audience are in two different rooms and were spliced together during editing. It doesn’t make Blotnick any less funny, but it does make her seem even more awkward than she otherwise would. Blotnick might not be a dynamic on-stage performer, but that’s okay—most comedians who try to be are annoying as hell. That lack of a crowd connection is more evident here than with other comedians who have similar personalities and deliveries, though. It doesn’t hurt the special that much, but it’s definitely noticeable.
These Comedy Central half-hours are always a little unfulfilling. With ads and too-obvious editing they only run for just about 20 minutes, which is a weird length for a stand-up set. It’s both too long and too short, and Blotnick’s just one more comedian whose set feels a little bloated and oddly truncated at the same time. It makes me want to track down her shorter appearances on late night shows like Colbert and Conan, and also leaves me wanting to see a full hour-long from her. Blotnick has a strong voice and a weirdly compelling presence, and even if this isn’t the best venue for any comedian, it’s still a winning display of what makes her unique.
Comedy Central Stand-up Presents: Emmy Blotnick airs on Oct. 5 at 11 PM.
Garrett Martin edits Paste’s comedy and games sections. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.