Published Jun 15, 2016Exclaim! 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.
Wyatt Cenac's 2014 Netflix special Brooklyn is a uniquely honest hour of poignantly intelligent comedy. The recording was originally intended for the purposes of a vinyl record release, with some cameras filming his set just in case the footage came in handy later on. Slap in a few scenes in post-production with puppets acting out Cenac's more outrageous stories and you've got yourself a brilliant hour of comedy.
As a former writer and correspondent for the Daily Show as well as King of the Hill, Cenac's stand-up material is — as one might imagine — a little more on the cerebral and understated side than most. Even the venue he picked is understated — a small, intimate basement with walls resembling a subterranean roadside family restaurant. He spends much of the performance speaking to his feet, which seems to suit Cenac strangely well. He doesn't come across as nervous or aloof, glancing up at the audience just enough to keep them feeling involved. He can't seem to help but come off as thoughtful, which — aside from being wildly funny — is the salient point of Cenac's Brooklyn.
Brooklyn is a special revolving around the city where Wyatt Cenac grew up. His shock and his misgivings for how Brooklyn has changed in the past 20 years offer plenty of brilliant source material for political, racial and observational humour. The contrast between Brooklyn as he remembers it and the problems he has with the gentrification taking place today offers a ton of particularly funny material.
Cenac gets darkly personal at one point during his set. When discussing the loss of his father — when Cenac was very young — he manages to stay funny while offering some very touching and thought-provoking insight into grief and the self-reflection that accompanies it.
The one problem with this special is that Cenac gives his audience a whole lot to digest and think about in a relatively short part of his set, and it can be difficult once absorbing the more sobering nature of his father's story to slide back into the flow of his performance as quickly as Cenac does. It takes him a few minutes to get the audience back on his level again.
Overall Cenac's performance is a brilliant mix of intelligent political humour and hilarious observational insight. While much of his set is focused on rather specific details about Brooklyn, the effect is not alienating for those who haven't experienced it. Most of the things he chooses to focus on about Brooklyn are, if not universal, translatable to most people's understanding of poor neighbourhoods and the gentrification of said spaces. But Wyatt Cenac covers a lot of ground in Brooklyn from city planning to relationships and children in bars, so for those who don't relate or can't picture the sort of universe Wyatt is using as the cornerstone for Brooklyn, not to worry, there's something in Brooklyn for everyone.