Ed Hill’s first ever comedy special, originally slated to tape in March of 2020, received the COVID treatment. In his case, this meant a closed set for filming with just a handful of family and friends. They sit in a circle for the entirety of the set, AA-style, facing Hill. The Taiwanese Canadian comedian maximizes the emotional impact of this support group-type set up, and his hour is all the better for it.
Candy and Smiley (named for his parents) feels therapeutic, both for Hill as he tells his story, and the audience as we learn more about the podcaster. We’re introduced to each person in attendance, with a brief epithet about their connection to him. Hill’s voice echoes in the mostly empty hall as he speaks to them—the type of space that will evoke church basements for some, school gymnasiums for others. The nondescript yet familiar setting feels apt for a special about experiences that, while specific to his background, resonate no matter what your upbringing.
To that point, this isn’t a laugh-a-minute set, and that’s not Hill’s aim, either. He takes his time letting anecdotes unfurl themselves. Candy and Smiley is loosely structured around nuggets of wisdom Hill imparts about goodbyes, differences and other certainties of life. None of them are particularly earth-shattering, but most truths in life aren’t. Hill himself knows that well; he recalls vowing as a teenger that he’d be different from his parents, who themselves immigrated to Canada in search of a different life. No matter how much we try to separate ourselves from our origins, those inevitabilities catch up with us sooner or later.
When Hill’s punchlines hit, though, they don’t disappoint. The special’s highly personal approach could easily become saccharine if not for his acerbic comments about his family and hilarious observations, like one on the unlikely connection between penises and sriracha. The best bits of Candy and Smiley are that much funnier because they are bookended by sincere insights into Hill’s life.
Candy and Smiley serves in some ways as a time capsule for what we’re living through, but in a way that’s intensely relatable and touching rather than maudlin. Hill only mentions coronavirus sparingly, because the entire structure of his set is already shaped by it. He knows that we don’t want to be reminded of how shitty life is right now, but, rather, what we value so much about the before times. The intimacy of the set only serves to highlight this.
There’s a certain amount of vulnerability inherent to comedy, but Hill pushes himself beyond expectations, to our collective benefit. He makes a couple choices during Candy and Smiley I won’t spoil but that, while simple enough, are especially moving. Hill’s first special isn’t strictly comedy, but it is brilliant.
Ed Hill’s Candy and Smiley is now available through Amazon Prime and Apple TV.
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.