Published Sep 02, 2016Many artists have made an art of subtlety, but that is a road less traveled in the world of standup. Usually, it's the brashest and/or most neurotic that climbs to the top of that mountain, from the rare introverts in extrovert shells to the most extreme narcissistic exhibitionists. And yet, defying the odds, Dwayne Perkins has forged a successfully sensible path in comedy.
Although he lives in L.A. these days, Perkins was born in Brooklyn. He was the first person in his project to have a computer, and went on to pursue post-secondary education to become an engineer up to the point that he attempted to get a summer job with Microsoft. As luck would have it, they didn't hire him, so he refocused his energy on comedy in the mid-'90s. Following two albums, a Chicken Soup for the Soul-style book based on his blog, tours around the world, and many appearances on Conan, Leno, Carson Daly, Tosh.0 and Comedy Central, 2016's Take Note marks his long-awaited comedy special debut.
Perkins' standup was forged in the realism of Harlem and the intellectualism of Boston, and his approach is intentionally crafted to appeal to both. He considers comedy to be a community event, so he doesn't want to alienate anyone. As such, he doesn't rely on coarse language or lewd imagery to make a statement. In fact, he doesn't much use those devices at all. He makes his points without beating his chest or his audience's psyche. That may sound boring on paper, but he doesn't exactly play it safe either.
Ultimately proposed in order to reduce random douchebaggery and senseless violence, Perkins works hard to sell the concept of a woman-slap voucher program without sounding misogynistic. He's visibly aware of the tightrope that he's walking, hiding his eyes twice during the routine, but he manages to pull through it with more grace than Jim Jeffries.
Perkins knows different people will take away different things when they see and hear him. In fact, after discussing America's foreign policy, he points out how both a liberal and a conservative audience would take that bit, both enjoying it equally for contrasting reasons.
He also tackles vaguely controversial topics like Asians being the best drivers and white people being the best dancers, and goes on to discuss the ethics and prejudices of naming babies. As it is culturally in America, race is an ever-present issue, but it's rarely the be-all and end-all of Perkins' performance. With his ability to see things from all sides, it all comes out in the wash.
Perkins projects an air of maturity on Take Note, a man in his mid-40s performing in a button-up shirt and grey cardigan in front of a filing cabinet, globe, and chalkboard with his name written on it. He looks like a stuffy academic, but his style is chill, often holding the mic with one hand and leaning an elbow on the stand with the other.
Though he broaches several uncomfortable topics and drops a fair amount of truth, he doesn't really attack anyone or anything. He doesn't rely on prejudices like Russell Peters, yet he never feels like he's pandering or patronizing in the same way of Leno or Cosby. He walks lines that many of us can't even see, and that is impressive.
Unfortunately, as witty and well-crafted as it is throughout, there's not a whole lot of challenging material on Take Note either. As is often the case, in the act of trying to please everybody, it becomes difficult to deeply connect with him, as likeable and relatable as he is on the surface. While it's doubtful to be the special that appears first in the minds of comedy nerds when giving recommendations, Take Note deserves to make a lot of top ten lists.
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.