For all of his political wit on Late Night with Seth Meyers, the SNL alum feels like a fairly innocuous variable in the world of stand-up. Sure, Seth Meyers speaks truth to power regularly from behind the desk of his talk show, but he is not enough of a shit-stirrer to really turn heads when asked to host the Emmys in 2014 or the Golden Globes in 2018. Perhaps the most controversial thing he’s ever done is poke the sleeping bear of Donald Trump at the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Dinner, an event which is sometimes pointed to as a possible catalyst for Trump’s presidential bid.
All this to say, most folks will likely go into Meyers’ new Netflix stand-up special Lobby Baby expecting some laughs, a few political jabs and little more. And yes, his hour in Minneapolis delivers heartily on the first two fronts, but Meyers also manages to pack some surprises.
Many a Netflix comedy special tries to mix up the format with introductory clips, whether that be a simple walk on or an extended interview with the performer. Some, like Jenny Slate’s most recent hour, try to completely break the mold by intercutting the whole set with little vignettes. Meyers’ latest effort is unique in just how bare bones it is; there is no sequence of him making his way in front of the crowd and the stage is only adorned by the standard ring of lights around its perimeter. This could have a sterile effect, but instead the visual approach feels refreshingly straightforward. Under fellow comedian Neal Brennan’s direction, Meyers stands out starkly against the blue backdrop, with little to distract from his (very) funny jokes.
On the other hand, Meyers does take advantage of Netflix’s capabilities in a subversive way: he allows people to skip his politics section with the click of a button, as they would the theme song of a TV show. At first, this may seem to enable some apathetic viewers’ desire to bury their heads in the proverbial sand, which would be a disappointment on Meyers’ part. His political observations (and almost Eric Cartman-like Trump impression) form the core of his appeal. However, Meyers doesn’t make the situation so simple for the apolitical, which earns him one of his best moments of the special.
Meyers also very bravely comes out as a wife guy on Lobby Baby—that man whose spouse becomes the entirety of his personality and the subject of nearly all of his conversations. With him, though, this switch comes off as sweet rather than saccharine or manipulative, in particular because he uses the opportunity to have a new take of self-deprecation. For the last several minutes of the set, Meyers performs as his wife Alexi Ashe, picking apart all of his own missteps and ineptitudes. Thankfully he doesn’t add any hamfisted mannerisms as Ashe, but he embodies a quiet coolness that gives the set a new dimension.
Meyers is still seamless, even when liberated from his Late Night desk and suit. He commands the room with pithy stories and occasionally punctuates a bit with a deer-in-the-headlights stare. His charm and consistency are both admirable, if a little dulling to his performance. The kid who gets straight A’s may not receive a huge reward from their parents if they bring home yet another aced test, but that doesn’t make them any less of a valedictorian.
Clare Martin writes about comedy, music and more for Paste.