What always set Adam Devine apart, following breakthrough performances in his sitcom Workaholics and the film Pitch Perfect, was a conscious coupling of frat-bro enthusiasm with theatre-kid execution. Watching Devine onstage has always felt like if the kid who got suspended for throwing firecrackers at stuff got cast as the lead in West Side Story, and there’s an energy to that that has always been inherently compelling.
Best Time of Our Lives, his debut stand-up special for Netflix, is at its most successful when it taps into that. Unfortunately, these moments are concentrated pretty heavily in the early minutes of the show. He’s the king of expressing boyish energy, so when his jokes are about how ridiculous it is that young boys are so impressed by the fact that they’re catching things in “mid-air,” he’s the perfect person for the job.
Unfortunately, that boyishness is what ultimately overwhelms DeVine’s comedy, no matter how well it’s performed. “In case you’re wondering,” says DeVine when describing performing comedy with an interpreter present, “the word blowjob in sign language? Exactly what you think it is.” DeVine also posits something called ‘windsexualism,’ which is where people try to have sex with, well, the wind. A dumb idea, he says, but one that these days might as well be a thing.
In fact, DeVine’s tendency to smile, shake his head and mutter “stupid…” after so many jokes is emblematic of a big problem with the hour. The jokes aren’t really stupid, they’re just sort of unambitious, and the mantra the phrase becomes begins to feel like it’s telling us we should be having a silly, good time. The cumulative effect of all of this—despite DeVine’s sincere efforts at creating a real experience for the audience—is that Best Time of Our Lives registers as an hour of stand-up without ever feeling like a particularly cohesive special. It just sits there, banking on DeVine’s likability, with about as much effort put into it as you’d expect from his Workaholics character and not DeVine himself.
Graham Techler’s writing has been featured by McSweeney’s and The New Yorker, and he performs at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York. You’d be doing him a real solid by following him on Twitter @gr8h8m_t3chl3r.