There’s a very easy joke to be made here about one’s 15 minutes of fame.
It’s hard not to think about that when you’re watching Netflix’s The Comedy Lineup, each episode of which features a different stand-up for only 15 minutes. And I’m not using Warhol’s phrase in its slightly dystopic meaning. Limiting these specials to a quarter of an hour immediately solves Netflix’s two main problems when it comes to its comedy specials: the shows are often too long and the streaming service is still attempting to hash out its diversity issues. Each mini-special features a distinct voice, making the series a bingeable option for stand-up—which is fresh territory for Netflix. Each special also generally feels like a full-length special in miniature, creating a kind of mini-arc out of just a few comic beats. Unfortunately, sometimes this irons out the little creases and odd angles that make full-length specials so enjoyable.
For instance, Emma Willman packs her 15 minutes with observations about growing up in the closet, realizing her sexuality after discovering an attraction to Nala instead of Simba. Her episode feels like it has the most complete arc as a special, and holds together the most cohesively, but you can also feel the time crunch as a result. Normally, these specials clock out a few minutes before you clock that they’ve even started-Willman’s is one that you wish had more room to breathe.
The brief time limit also creates a situation where a comic needs to get across a worldview in like two seconds, which generally does each special a favor. Take Josh Johnson, who, in a quick anecdote that misdirects you towards an observation about the casual racism of an old lady, abruptly shifts into melancholy head-shaking over her inability to use an elevator. If that doesn’t make much sense in summary, that’s only a testament to Johnson’s nuanced approach. In any case, we get who he is immediately, without hitting us over the head with the kind of thesis statements some comics employ at the tops of their sets.
Not that those thesis statements aren’t always effective. They are when the comic is Janelle James or Kate Willett. In general, whenever a set fails to make a strong impression or falls a little flat, it still scores major points for offering a concise portrait of its performer. No doubt these 15 minutes of fame will lead to longer timelines of success for many comics featured here. Netflix has created a commendable stepping stone, allowing both the network and the comedians to take risks. That should be applauded.
Graham Techler is a New York-based writer and comedian. You’d be doing him a real solid by following him on Twitter @grahamtechler or on Instagram @obvious_new_yorker. A real solid.