“If I get caught drinking, my father comes over and fights me like a dude.”
Why does comedy try so hard to be tough? Undeniably talented, funny, goofy people who feel the need to act like rock stars when they’re just clowns. Netflix’s new six episode stand up series, The Degenerates, is the latest irreverent entry in the cigar-smoking, fingerless glove-wearing, “Why can’t we say it?” comedy contingent, and true to its namesake, it’s not for the faint of heart and mind.
The Degenerates opens with Big Jay Oakerson, known for his commitment to verbal disobedience, telling some awkward tales from his domestic life, and then transitions into an indictment of what offends people. He laments not being able to say “tranny” anymore, and while he’s still able to pull laughs with his undeniable comedic skill and experience, a part of me still thinks, “come on man, you’re better than that.” Then I remember who Big Jay is, and he really isn’t. He claims he’s not transphobic for saying it, his reasoning being that less than a year ago, he considered having sex with a transgendered person. (But didn’t. If that’s going to be your defense, at least go through with it.) It’s an oddly mean and offensive bit for 2018, made even weirder by the fact that it’s supposed to be about how tolerant he is. It feels like the kind of joke you’d hear on 1998 Comedy Central at midnight.
This is all before he goes in on women for “erasing masculinity” and losing their respect for men. (He does admit that, at this point, men probably deserve it.) As regressive as this 30 minutes of comedy is topic-wise, Big Jay manages to keep it captivating. His impeccable timing, laidback “aw shucks” delivery, and conversational tone go a long way toward garnering some hard-earned laughs. While you may not find yourself forgiving the subject matter, he’s an incredibly engaging and adept performer, especially when it comes to sneaking into your comfort zone.
“I’m a suck somebody’s dick tonight off of this shit.”—Yamaneika Saunders
The second episode I watched was Yamaneika Saunders, another New York-based powerhouse. After some too-true jokes about drinking alcohol and its effect on a woman’s sex drive, Saunders touches on how hard it is for two fat people to have sex before launching into some crowdwork about “the fuck business.” It’s an energetic and exciting display of pure, classic raunch, reminiscent of a type of ComicView black comedy you don’t really see in the mainstream anymore. Occasionally the set slips into trading punchlines for catchphrases (“If you want to lock this down, put a ring on it! Beyonce done told you what to do!”), but for the most part, Saunders’s enthusiastic and aggressive cadence allows for results that other comics wouldn’t get with the same writing.
One advantage of the plethora of readily available, mass produced stand-up comedy is the attention to niche. Whereas in the past, you kind of just took what you were given, now everything is catalogued, categorized and algorithm-based. These half hours were made for a certain person: the kind of guy that misses early 2000s late night Comedy Central. They feel a bit out of place in today’s media landscape, but for what they are, they’re pretty well done and good for a few solid laughs.
Yusef Roach is Paste’s Assistant Comedy Editor and the cohost of the podcast Death is Imminent. He’s on Twitter @yusefroach.