More comedy specials should start out with an animated short, kind of like the adult equivalent of a Pixar movie. LA-based comedian Niles Abston’s latest hour, household name, kicks off with the animated film The Opener (dir. Noah Cutwright), which serves as a fun, surreal introduction to Abston and what he’s all about. Animated Abston begins by doing stand-up over Seinfeld-esque funky bass (courtesy of Moon Bounce) before the story turns into a dreamy, vaporwave portrait of Los Angeles, and then transforms yet again into a trippy action movie. The crew at Imaginex Animation really make the most of the 11-ish minutes they’re given, showing off their visual talent. And that’s not to mention the lampshading of tropes by Abston himself and his hilarious, exasperated voice performance.
The live action stand-up, directed by John Becker and taped at Chicago’s Lincoln Lodge in summer 2022, may not include a giant Twitter logo chasing down Abston or TV Man as the final boss like in The Opener, but it’s engrossing nonetheless. Abston’s style is laid back; he sits on a stool, a tumbler full of amber liquid in his hand, and chats to the audience with the confidence of a man holding court. His casualness makes it so Abston can slip in sly jabs (“Lost her phone, keys, dignity—all that shit” he says of a drunk girl he helped during Pride) for maximum effect, a cheeky smile on his face the whole time. His easy stage presence ensures that his jokes—even the dicier ones—go down smoothly.
Abston also detours into little scenarios, expanding a story to mine as many jokes out of it as possible. Some of my favorites include his imagining of rapper Bobby Schmurda’s friend Monte realizing his friend outed him as a criminal in song lyrics, or Abston snitching on his fictional buddy James for trying to pass as white. These vignettes keep the rhythm of household name interesting, as does Abston’s mastery of tension (the best example of which I won’t spoil, other than it has to do with an OnlyFans anecdote).
The special showcases Abston not just as a comic, but as a biting critic of society. He’s adamant that Black people and Jewish people should team up, that Palestine should be free, and that the Irish need to stop talking about white slavery, among a number of other topics. His observations clearly resonate with the audience—like the notion that southern families are more accepting of a pedophile uncle than a gay or trans family member—whose reactions fuel his funniest and most incisive moments. Abston makes the most of his good will from the crowd, playing on it for an excellent bit about Macklemore’s unearned success (I’d completely forgotten he beat out Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D City for the Best Rap Album Grammy, which is ridiculous). He knows how to work a room.
After watching household name, you’ll understand Abston’s saltiness about not having a movie or a pilot picked up more than ever. He’s got a distinct, wry point of view and the talent to back it up. It’s time.
Abston’s new special household name is streaming for free on YouTube.
Clare Martin is a cemetery enthusiast and Paste’s assistant comedy editor. Go harass her on Twitter @theclaremartin.