3 out of 5
Created by: Thomas Middleditch and Ben Schwartz
I’ve laughed at Ben Schwartz’s work a couple of times. That’s a quite literal number. While I’ll allow that a huge part of comedy is simply presentation, Schwartz’s bits and contributions have often struck me as solely that: he’s the guy that says pretty standard stuff but with a quirky snark, and so the quirky snark encourages chuckles, while whatever was said maybe wasn’t all that funny in itself. That he has glued up hair and cool sneakers makes him into a type that you probably work with, or is probably in your circle of friends. Yeah, Ben; that guy.
I wouldn’t have thought of Thomas Middleditch as a comedian outside of the context of TV. Yes, my awareness of him comes from Silicon Valley, and whether or not that role typecast him, it was hard to not see him as the cringe humor-type that he portrays on that show. If I can again bring surface judgements into it as well, his somewhat stooped posture and clothing that accents his skinniness adds to that.
I don’t think I have an outward bias towards improv humor, but I suppose I would lump it into the same pot as improv music: some acts thrive on the energy of the format to push compositions to surprising and satisfying levels; many acts just sound like they’re doing what they’re doing – making things up. They find a couple of good beats and groove, then someone goes off on a tangent, and eventually, it ends. Clap clap.
Thomas Middleditch’s and Ben Schwartz’s improv tour, three episodes of which were given hour-ish long episodes as a Netflix series, is pretty much a straight line through my above opinions on the comedians and genre. I did laugh out loud on a few occasions, but the bang-for-buck of waiting for the duo to find their way to those moments may not have been worth it, overall. Schwartz does his quirky snark bit, and Middleditch is uncomfortable, and they riff off of a scenario procured from the audience at the start of each episode – tell us about something upcoming that you’re excited for or nervous about – always latching on to the most obvious aspect of it, and then peppering in an exhaustive amount of ‘fucks’ that really undermined much of the humor.
I was entertained, but – and this is awful to say, because I wouldn’t want to go up in front of a crowd night after night and try to make stuff up on the fly – but I’m not sure the performances amounted to something better than might be conjured amongst a group of 30somethings during a night of drinking and chatting, especially given that swear-laden banter. I suppose that sounds prudish of me, but swearing can be hilarious for punctuation, or perhaps when purposefully overused, but when it’s part of someone’s usual speaking patterns, and occurs every few words, it seems as unintelligent as any such repeated phrase – such as umms, or ‘you knows,’ – but with an added taint of laziness.
I was curious to see what merited an improv tour, and I do respect the confidence of the two performers in getting up and doing it. And again, I admittedly laugh on occasion. It’s 2020, and we’re currently quarantined due to the Corona virus, so I suppose nights at laughing at the banter you’d have with buddies can be replaced by a few streaming episodes of Middleditch and Schwartz.