We’re experiencing arguably the largest civil rights movement of the last 50 years, a time of radical change and long overdue dismantling of racist systems. Many, though, have needed some respite in order to keep up the momentum of the George Floyd protests. Black people have been confronted with racist trauma from their past as they fight, once again, for the right to live. No words can adequately describe just how draining that is.
However trite the phrase may be, laughter is often the best medicine—or, at the very least, an effective pain reliever. Here to write your latest prescription is Chanel Ali, an NYC-based comedian originally from Philadelphia. You may have seen her before, whether as the co-host of Food Network’s web series Food Debate or on MTV’s Girl Code. Ali’s also opened for Saturday Night Live’s Michael Che and Marc Maron, and now she’s released her debut album Chanel No. 1 via 800 Pound Gorilla Records.
Ali embodies the classic notion of a stand-up comedian on her first record, discussing the cities she’s lived in, men she’s dated and just what life is like as a woman occasionally called “Channel” by strangers (it happens more often than you’d think). Though the territory is mostly familiar, Ali’s goofiness proves so infectious that everything feels novel. Her bit about disaster movies being white people comedies feels practically prescient considering the selfish and oblivious behavior of some during the pandemic, all in the name of getting haircuts or sipping on watered-down cocktails at a shitty restaurant. Her tone skews toward self-deprecating, yet upbeat. She’ll start off wry and smiling, then quickly crescendo her voice to make a punchline hit just right. Ali’s natural delivery is the perfect vehicle for her hilarious observations, whether they be about working at OKCupid or fighting the chupacabra with her little brother.
One of Chanel No. 1’s strengths is Ali’s focus on herself throughout the set. We get a sense of who she is as a woman trying to navigate what it means to be New Black, a cynical dater and an enthusiastic stoner. She doesn’t need to build rapport with the audience through contrived crowd work, instead weaving them in seamlessly. She’ll acknowledge when an audience member has a particularly visceral reaction to a joke and finds her footing with the crowd easily thanks to her amusing confessions. Listening to Ali’s stand-up feels like catching up with an old friend you never knew you had.
Frankly, we’re lucky to get to spend an hour enjoying Ali’s storytelling. We get a brief peek into her life and she maximizes every moment of it. Ali proves herself a master of comedic timing with a record that is tight but never overcrowded, building in plenty of space. Take a break to listen to Chanel No. 1—you won’t be disappointed.
Clare Martin is a cemetery enthusiast, hibernophile and contributing writer for Paste’s music and comedy sections. She also exercises her love for reality TV at HelloGiggles every now and then. Go harass her on Twitter @theclaremartin.