Published Jul 26, 2016"Excuse me!" shouts Dave Attell midway through his 2014 special, Road Work. "Out front, did it say 'magic show'? Or did it say 'Polynesians and filthy people'?" When Attell isn't getting the reaction he wants, he isn't afraid to go at the audience, and throughout this hour, he spars with comedy goers across the United States, from Hawaii (hence the Polynesians, welcoming him to the stage in full luau gear) to New Jersey to Minneapolis to Philadelphia and New Orleans.
The rooms vary in size, but none are the stately theatres comedians normally reserve for their specials. He's grinding it out in rooms with sightlines that don't always catch that stage, with a cheap box fan onstage serving little or no purpose, with an audience member wolfing down dessert in the front row. Attell's a road comic, working bluer than blue just a few feet away from the crowd, a challenge he seems to relish.
Because of the cramped intimacy of these places, he gets to show off how he can manage the audience. They're occasionally rowdy, hugely responsive audiences. People in the crowd block the camera as they stand up. When Attell even mentions a strip club, a call goes out from the audience: "Take it off!" Part of each stop involves getting an audience member to help film the show, and in New Orleans, his new camera operator gets onstage with Attell, looking more than a little drunk.
Attell feeds off all the chaos; plus, these truly are his audiences, people ready to laugh at his material no matter, or maybe because of, how dark it goes. From reality TV stars like Honey Boo Boo on to sexual mores, he describes a culture that's at least as depraved as he is on stage. Occasionally, that lacerating view can be misdirected. He describes a fundraiser he did for children with special needs who, by his description, didn't enjoy him very much. Bits like that feel like punching down instead of up.
If you really feel like it, you can skip right through that –– there's no great through-line here, just snapshots of his sets on the road. And elsewhere, he does manage to push up against common social sensibilities with success, setting the audience for a moment of decency, only to have it slipped away from them at the last moment. "I am for gay marriage," he says in one short bit, "as long as they're the same race."
His relationship with his touring camera operator gives a peek behind the curtain. When the operator isn't getting in Attell's way onstage, the two of them will sometimes share a quick moment away from the crowd, Attell's working face slipping away for a second into a smile, a flash of contrast showing the posture that it takes to shock people into laughter.
Exclaim! is reviewing every standup comedy special currently available on Netflix Canada, including this one. You can find a complete list of reviews so far here.