Shameless is a word often thrown around in a pejorative sense, usually describing self-promoting attention seekers. While performers are, by trade, attention seekers in some respect, comedian Emily Heller can claim she is shameless in the best way possible. In her first full-hour comedy special Ice Thickeners, Heller shows she is immune to body shame and, indeed, most every kind of shame under the sun. She is unapologetically herself, which makes even her bits about fairly tired subjects (online dating comes to mind) enjoyable at the very least even the material itself isn’t all that fresh. There’s one particular joke about dating a guy from mime college that practically feels like it’s plucked from Liz Lemon’s life, except the difference is Heller digs deep into the comedy goldmine of the situation rather than making the bit into a one-woman pity party. That doesn’t mean she shirks from self-deprecation, though. The Emmy nominee originally meant to have the show only be open to women and non-binary people, a well-intentioned move she pokes fun at in her opening segment, framing herself as the comedian version of Veep’s Selina Meyer.
As for the bulk of the Comedy Central special itself, Ice Thickeners lives up to its name for the most part. Heller skips the small talk, diving right into topics like politics, exercise, therapy and masturbation. While such content is nothing out of the ordinary in stand-up world, that’s not necessarily a drawback here. There’s a reason we all ruminate on relationships and mental health and the state of our world—they’re universal concerns. She doesn’t plumb the subjects she covers too deeply, but Heller makes these well-trodden paths silly and insightful, frequently throwing out lines that feel instantly GIF-able. Her analogies for Trump—including him as Air Bud or an enchanted toilet/train conductor—are particularly inventive.
Her focus on politics in the special only extends to her contemplation of a Trumpian world, but her feminist perspective is pervasive throughout. In a set all about getting down to brass tacks, Heller jokes that not only does she not care what men think, but that she flat-out hates them. It’s the type of comedic misandry that is both laughable and, in this day and age, utterly believable.
Heller’s clearly a comedian ready to be center stage after over a decade of stand-up. She skips through her set with ease and keeps the crowd work to a minimum, which is a plus not because she’s bad at engaging with the audience (she does fairly well in this special), but because we simply don’t need the distraction. Heller is confident and times jokes with impeccable flair, going along at a fast enough pace that nothing ever drags but without being so quick that we miss the punchline.
This isn’t Nanette; Heller is not reinventing the wheel, and she shouldn’t have to in order to garner praise. Watching this special is a bit like hearing a song for the first time and feeling like you’ve always known the tune, not just because it hits familiar beats, but because it’s so consistently good that it’s simply difficult to imagine a world in which it doesn’t exist. Ice Thickeners is a solid hour of what comedy should be in 2019: giving no fucks, hating men and just being damn funny.
Clare Martin is an intern at Paste.