Honked car horns tend to have rather unpleasant associations: traffic jams, slow drivers, generic B-roll of Manhattan. These days, though, they’re the replacement for boisterous applause at drive-in comedy shows, like in Erica Rhodes’ first hour-long special La Vie en Rhodes, filmed at the Rose Bowl. And there are plenty of beeping car horns throughout the set, along with the audience’s uproarious laughter. Everyone present seemed to be having a great time.
Meanwhile, at home, the set comes off as somewhat lackluster. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what made La Vie en Rhodes just not funny enough. The comedian and actress is a confident performer, adapting well to looking into headlights rather than stage lights, and some of her bits are quite entertaining. However, many of the topics she covers feel like recycled subjects from a special that came out a few years ago. When you strip away the coronavirus-specific setting, her disgust at veganism and jokes about people becoming “too PC” make you feel like you’ve traveled back in time a bit. One of her lines about how dating via different social media platforms just means there are more ways of being rejected brought me right back to a similar quote by Drew Barrymore’s character in the 2009 film He’s Just Not That Into You. It comes across as a little stale.
That aside, Rhodes throws herself fully into the strangeness of performing at a drive-in. She works the crowd and comments on her favorite cars, clearly connecting with the audience in the process. You get the sense that this was a fantastic set to see live, which is a true rarity these days. She manages to almost make the setting seem normal—no easy task—thanks to her charm and ease onstage.
Another strong point of Rhodes’ is her continued use of word play. She’s a gifted wordsmith, twisting sentences around masterfully to illustrate a point or land a particularly good punchline. With her distinctive voice and self-assured delivery, it’s obvious why she’s been a frequent guest on the beloved radio show A Prairie Home Companion and turned up on sitcoms like New Girl and Modern Family. Rhodes excels as a performer, but the material itself leaves something to be desired. While some of her bits are hilarious and engaging, La Vie en Rhodes would be much funnier if she spent time mining comedy gold in places that haven’t already been completely excavated.
Rhodes has the potential to become a household name in comedy. She can build rapport with a crowd even in the oddest of circumstances and is a natural behind the mic. If she can hone her material to match the rest of her skills, then it’ll all be coming up roses for her.
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.