Liz Miele has been doing stand-up for over half her life, and you can tell from her seamless, engrossing delivery. On her latest self-produced and self-released special, The Ghost of Academic Future, she has the audience in the palm of her hand—and makes this challenging task look easy, to boot. Miele is cynical and relatable, the type of comedian who has a knack for putting into words thoughts you’ve had but never quite been able to articulate.
After starting off with her usual self-deprecation (“That’s enough,” she chides the crowd at New York Comedy Club), Miele launches into a bit about personally needing the pandemic. COVID may be a dead horse of a subject, but she makes it worthy of revisiting with her refreshing sense of humor. In fact, most topics she jokes about during the special are common comedy fodder—dating, sobriety, living on a meager income while being crushed by capitalism—but it’s to Miele’s credit that they don’t feel overdone. Her instantly quotable lines, elaborate metaphors, and hilariously strange tangents all bring new life to the familiar. The ability to render everyday issues funny and engaging again is the hallmark of a great comedian; these problems aren’t going away, so we may as well laugh at them.
One of Miele’s best metaphors is a longer joke about a codependent relationship and an ex’s inability to let her in. She describes him feeling better as a room that she was always attempting to break into by any means possible—and that he still felt she didn’t try hard enough to enter. Miele takes umbrage with the idea that she should have to be an “emotional ninja” to be there for him. “I shouldn’t have to dodge lasers to connect with you,” she yells exasperatedly, a sentiment that will surely hit home for anyone with an emotionally unavailable ex. Putting such a frustrating—and also frustratingly common—relationship problem into words is a talent in and of itself.
Beyond the actual content of The Ghost of Academic Future, Miele’s pacing and vocal range is incredible. She’ll deliver the beginning of a story in a gentle whisper, like a parent setting the scene during a bedtime story, then escalate the joke with an indignant shout. While she keeps her physical comedy fairly limited, Miele’s vocal and facial expressiveness can land a bit effortlessly.
Another sign of Miele’s years of experience as a comedian is her sparing yet game approach to crowd work. She engages the audience directly only every now and then—mostly to “gather data” by having them raise their hands—but even when the one extended audience interaction goes a bit off-the-rails (in a very positive way), Miele rolls with it and even finds a way to tie it into the special’s loose motif about ghosts (which she doesn’t believe in, for the record).
Miele is solidly hilarious and simply a joy to behold during The Ghost of Academic Future. The end credits—in which Miele plays with kittens at the Meow Parlour as text appears on screen—neatly encapsulates the contentedness that comes with watching such a beautifully crafted and performed special.
The Ghost of Academic Future
is streaming for free on YouTube.
Clare Martin is a cemetery enthusiast and Paste’s assistant comedy editor. Go harass her on Twitter @theclaremartin.