Let Me Be a Demon in Chris Fleming’s Hell

Comedy Reviews Chris Fleming
Let Me Be a Demon in Chris Fleming’s Hell

There has been a lot of talk of “surrealist comedy” recently, from I Think You Should Leave to The Rehearsal to Jury Duty, but the term seems like an overgeneralization of a variety of different offbeat, “this doesn’t make logical sense” entertainment. If we’re talking about true Surrealism, art that draws on the deep well of the subconscious mind, then there is no comedian more conversation-worthy than Chris Fleming. His new special, Hell, is a bit like falling into a Salvador Dalí painting, but with jokes about corn hole and terrible children opening a portal to the underworld. It’s a delight. A strange, wonderful delight.

Hell allows Fleming to play with a variety of different comedic forms. Onstage, he dances, sings, and contorts his body into tangled, tangible punchlines. There are sketches featuring eccentric characters, intricate creatures, and entirely different video formats. At one point, Fleming even goes into the audience, engaging with a bit of crowd work. The combination of elements makes the special energetic and engaging, and showcases how well Fleming is able to juggle different formats. The variety also feels like an effective use of the streaming medium, embracing a myriad of visual options rather than sticking with the static image of a singular person onstage.

One of the things that Fleming excels at is creating a detailed visual language for his characters, tying into the Surrealist idea of making art that features a world that’s “completely defined and minutely depicted but that makes no rational sense.” He’s adept at this, and his previous work includes things like “Guy Who Created The Word Umpteenth” and “this thing,” but this special gives him the resources to create even more elaborate weirdos, like Ticketmaster Babies. I must admit, I was originally disgusted by the Ticketmaster Babies, little Hieronymus Bosch-like creatures that feed off wood and Twizzler Pull N Peels. But much to my surprise, by the end of their bit I was rooting for the little gremlins, hoping that the main one would succeed in its journey of getting a kiss (it’ll make sense in context). Fleming puts thought into not only how things look, but how they move, how they sound, and the rules of their specific world.

One of the best aspects of Fleming’s comedy is that he often presents himself as a conduit for the audience. He creates the surreal world, but he presents himself as the voice of reason, the confused onlooker forced into a situation they do not understand. Where a classic Tim Robinson character is often the catalyst for the unusual world, powering through sketches while others watch in confusion, Fleming presents himself as one of us—someone who has no idea what’s going on. His YouTube videos like “DePiglio” and “The Update” put him at odds with absurd creatures, but even videos like “Am I A Man?” present the same idea, as he rationally points out the oddities of particular gender norms.

An overarching theme of the special is Fleming’s introspection, particularly an attempt to figure out how he became the person he is today. With any other comedian, this would perhaps seem naval-gazey and myopic, but Fleming is a compelling enough person where I am genuinely interested in the answer. If I had one qualm with the special, it would be that he could explore that theme more and dive deeper into some of the personal topics he touches on, but the rest of the special is so good that it almost doesn’t matter if the theme of reflection is more decoration than scaffolding.

The ultimate contradiction about Chris Fleming is that at its core, his comedy is about pretty universal feelings. Am I doing this right? Is everyone judging me? Am I wrong for thinking this is weird? Fleming is able to take these feelings and manifest them into something truly original and interesting, and something that I can confidently say is truly one of a kind. Give Chris Fleming $10 million and let him make all the weird, surreal comedy he wants. I will watch it every single time.

Hell is streaming on The Weather Channel Peacock from August 18.

Michelle Cohn is a New York-based writer and pop culture enthusiast. Follow her on Twitter @michcohn.

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