Published Oct 02, 2016Chris D'Elia, the last headliner for JFL42 2016, filled the Sony Centre with uproarious laughter on Saturday night. It was clear that the venue was filled with fans — they sometimes laughed before he reached his punch line or screamed about how attractive he was during pauses in his set. D'Elia was quick to make an example of these fans by mimicking the random laughers and telling the women who were screaming to stop.
So, while D'Elia was funny, for those of us who like him but aren't super-fans, the audience's overenthusiasm became a weird kind of heckling that diffused the tension in his jokes and sometimes reduced the impact of his punch lines. Of course, that's not D'Elia's fault, so it's best to concentrate on his performance instead.
His physicality takes act-outs to another level. His strange stances, squats, and use of the stool emphasize each line of his set. He also has a knack for assigning characters voices that are funny already, but made funnier still because they are unexpected. For example, he gave ferocious animals silly cartoon voices, gave a woman a voice deeper than his own, and gave a four-year-old girl the voice of a young boy.
Add to this D'Elia's high energy and tired look as well as his silly yet intense demeanour and you start to understand why his fans are so into him. And, although he didn't do it as many times as he did in Incorrigible — which is a good thing in terms of flow and delivery — it's really endearing when the man laughs mid-joke because he enjoys the punch line he knows is coming.
D'Elia's use of the phrase "that's so gay" to describe a situation that he thinks is gay (not "stupid") and his use of a black man's voice to represent his inner gangster can both be viewed as potentially problematic, even though they were not presented offensively and were well-received.
He spent a significant amount of time unpacking the phrase "that's so gay" so that it got to a point where "that's so gay" not only ceased to mean something derogatory but started to signify male romance. Still, the flippant ease used to describe accidentally "fucking a guy" felt a little insensitive, even if it was necessary for him to emphasize his position on the matter.
Similarly, his appropriation of the experience of black men growing up on the streets and the somewhat stereotypical underlying misogyny associated with that representation seemed presumptuous. Having said that, due to how preposterously incongruous the situation of a little girl wanting to show him something was to this tough character he wanted to be in his heart, the joke ended up being more about how ridiculous he was than anything else.
D'Elia's stage persona often obscures the complexity of his jokes to the point where you're not sure if he is toeing the line intentionally, or if he's really very silly and just charming enough to get away with it. But, if well-placed callbacks and incredibly smooth transitions are any indication, it's all more intentional than he may get credit for.
It seems like D'Elia is only going to get better as he gets more annoyed with things like true love and our narcissistic desires to be the hero in the movie of our own lives. His self-awareness and cultural criticism are already on point and that's what makes Chris D'Elia — or Comedian #2 — someone to keep your eye on if you aren't already.