James Davis practically bursts with charisma. In his new Comedy Central special, Live from the Town, he comes across as the kind of guy who could take over a group dinner without you even minding—a guy who would make you crave his attention. Indeed, that’s the impression you get from audience members when Davis throws out the occasional “I see you!” As a matter of fact, his frequent improvised interactions with the audience are a true antidote to the reluctant, half-assed crowd work you can often see in a recorded special. He doesn’t retreat from the pressure of the cameras. He puts his body into it, before snapping back into his material. “That joke is kind of like the O.J. verdict,” he says at one point. “Some people like it. White women don’t.”
It’s that level of charisma that lets Davis fly through most of the special. His is maybe the best Obama impression I’ve seen, through a combination of real verbal accuracy and that X-factor star power, allowing Davis to make a wild joke about how he’d introduce his family with a declining inflection that made it sound “like they’re some kind of law firm” seem like an obvious observation you can’t believe you weren’t already thinking about.
However, there are two impediments to the good time. First of all, the special is a little over edited. Davis, who has an extremely natural rhythm and takes his time letting a moment land, is often cut off by the special itself. Second, the energy that makes the special sing can also make it a bit bro-y. This can go from funny to squirmy one moment to the next. Davis’s take on the temptation of unprotected sex (it’s “the way God intended,” he says, while sex with a condom is “like eating a Starburst with a bit of the wrapper on it”) is fun enough, but then that vibe crashes up against his #MeToo material.
After a, presumably, genuine intro about the importance of the movement, Davis goes into a sweaty rationalization for why guys wouldn’t necessarily realize you can’t pull your dick out in front of someone. “Back in my day, that’s how you avoided the friendzone.” He might be facetious in saying that exposing yourself to an unsuspecting person is a way of saying “I like you,” but it’s a similar rationalization to the one employed by those supporting Louis C.K.’s attempted comeback, and it reinforces their thinking whether Davis means it to or not. Moreover, it negates his otherwise sympathetic understanding of the topic.
Davis has other interesting angles on the bad behavior of powerful men and their half-assed apologies, but it can be tiring when you get the impression that every comedian feels there has to be a “but” after they introduce and support a movement in order for it to be a valid comedic take. It’s disappointing for many reasons, but for the purposes of this review, it casts an extremely sour shadow over an otherwise charming set.
Graham Techler is a New York-based writer and comedian. You’d be doing him a real solid by following him on Twitter @gr8h8m_t3chl3r or on Instagram @obvious_new_yorker. A real solid.