If you can’t tell by the photo above, Nate Palomino isn’t a real person. It’s the male alter ego of Natalie Palamides, a comedian and performer who’s probably best known in America for playing Flo’s bored, cynical co-worker Mara in those Progressive ads. In her award-winning live show Nate: A One Man Show, Palamides uses Nate to explore the tricky issues of rape and consent, while parodying alpha male braggadocio. It’s one of the bravest, weirdest, most striking comedy performances you’ll ever see, and Netflix’s taped version mostly captures what makes it so special.
After the one major off note of the whole show—a prologue of audience members and producer Amy Poehler preparing / warning the viewers at home what’s about to happen—Nate begins as a pure cartoon of masculine excess. Palamides storms the stage with smoke and pyro, blasting heavy metal and crushing cans, and immediately pulling the audience onto the stage by trying to do an Evel Knievel-style stunt over a viewer. Nate is an absurd, clownish refraction of a man—Palamides wears a bushy wig with headband, a big floppy mustache, fake chest hair, baggy camo pants, and a plaid lumberjack coat with no shirt underneath—and this entrance makes us expect a show right out of the “Stone Cold” Steve Austin playbook.
When the bluster dies down, we realize Nate isn’t the power bro he wants to be. He’s haggard, beaten, with a black eye and bandages around his neck. He competes with the audience in a rigged drinking game, but the cans in his cooler are La Croix and not Coors Light. His terms that the winner gets to do anything they want to anybody in the audience they want are as crudely sexual as they sound, but before groping any of the women in the crowd he asks for their consent first. And then, for good measure, he fondles a man, as well.
Nate is what happens when toxic masculinity means well but doesn’t entirely get it. He knows it’s important to ask first but acts like it’s some great revelation he’s recently had and not the most basic form of respect. He’s taking art classes at night to get in touch with his feelings, but when he realizes an ex-girlfriend is in the audience, he still winds up challenging her current dude to a fight. He can’t fully tamp down the macho madness within.
That wrestling match actually happens on stage. Palamides challenges the audience throughout, not just daring them to become active participants—from being groped, to unwittingly playing the roles of Nate’s ex-girlfriend and best friend, to having an actual shirtless wrestling match with Palamides on the stage—but point blank asking them if Nate having sex with a drunk woman is ethical. It’s telling that the audience is unsure how to respond—his date did instigate it, but again, she was drunk. She’s also a mannequin who falls apart halfway through the act. Again, it’s absurd.
Palamides regularly aims for shock value. Beyond the open challenges to the audience, she spends much of the show’s second half with Nate’s large rubber penis and testicles openly flapping about. Yeah, it’s a surprising sight gag at first, but it also reinforces one of the show’s main points. In examining men’s difficulty in expressing or even understanding their emotions, Palamides strips Nate down not just mentally and emotionally but physically, as well.
Nate: A One Man Show is a daring farce about consent and machismo that’s often hilarious and always provocative. Don’t expect anything like a traditional stand-up show, which is one of its strengths. Palamides is far more outrageous and boundary-pushing than those jurassic stand-up bozos who act like racism, sexism and homophobia are somehow still shocking after being the standard for most of human history, and she raises serious questions about real issues along the way. It’s not as tense, transgressive, or hilarious as seeing it live, but it’s still one of the most unforgettable things you’ll watch on Netflix.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, music, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.