Laugh! It's Good for You

Written by Austen Macalus

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There’s that classic college joke, “How do you balance school, a social life, and a healthy lifestyle while in school?” The punchline: very poorly.

With every new school year comes the challenge of finding time for homework, jobs, student groups, research, social commitments, buying groceries, eating food, buying more groceries, procrastinating on Twitter… oh yeah, and getting some time to relax. For those of us who have a tough time saying “no” to new commitments (looking at you, mirror!), fully unwinding can be a difficult undertaking.

Last semester, I remember all too well the stress of nagging deadlines, constant obligations and endless work. I bet I’m not the only one. However, I’ve developed a not-so-secret recipe to help recuperate, replenish, and recover: laughing. You might have heard of it!

Watching (and performing) comedy is my way of handling the daily stresses of college life. It’s a time to forget about everything else going on in my life and focus on the ridiculous, absurd, and downright hilarious. And it’s not just my theory. Science backs it up -- researchers have found that laughter shuts down stress hormones and triggers the production of positive neurochemicals like dopamine.

Lucky for us, there are many great bits of comedy out there. I thought I’d share with you some of my favorites from the past year. We can all use a little laugh break -- because practicing self-care is no joke.

“Homecoming King”

By: Hasan Minhaj

Mood: Earnest, Intimate, Warmhearted

Where to Find It: Netflix

Watch the Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fu-u5VldxVY

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Hasan Minjah’s “Homecoming King” is carefully crafted and surprisingly poignant.

Hot off hosting the White House Correspondence Dinner, Minhaj brings his charming persona, boyish energy, and, at times, indignant tone to his first stand-up special.  

Minhaj’s style is more storytelling than traditional stand-up. Before “The Daily Show,” Minhaj was a regular performer at “The Moth,” and he originated a few of his jokes there (Listen here: https://themoth.org/stories/prom). Minhaj largely focuses on his upbringing as a first-generation immigrant -- sharing personal stories about his relationship with his strict father, the backlash against brown skinned Americans after 9/11, and a racist prom experience.

“Homecoming Kings” is equal parts funny, emotional, and thoughtful. And it’s perhaps my favorite work by a comedian in recent memory.

“Michael Che Matters”

By: Michael Che

Mood: Edgy, Political, Non-Apologetic

Where to Find It: Netflix

Watch the Trailer: https://youtu.be/BuWmelfSTHI

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If the name doesn’t give it away, Michael Che’s new stand-up special doesn’t pull any punches. Che, the co-anchor of Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update,” brings a laid back swagger to his barbs about politics and society. Many times, he chuckles his way to the punchline.

In today’s political climate, Che is a much welcomed voice -- mixing controversial critiques, political incorrectness, and hardlined opinions, with a healthy amount of self-awareness. He masterfully moves between joking about befriending Donald Trump, discussing gentrification in Brooklyn, and acknowledging his own accusations of homophobia and sexism. Che’s take down of critics of Black Lives Matter is especially impressive.

Even if you don’t agree with every one of Che’s stances, you can appreciate his humor. It’s contemporary political commentary at its best.

“Thank God for Jokes”

By: Mike Birbiglia

Mood: Understanded, Endearing, Witty

Where to Find It: Netflix

Mike Birbiglia is known for his slow and soft-spoken style. Like Hasan Minhaj, Birbiglia is more interested in telling a good story than skipping to the punchline. His newest hour long special, “Thank God for Jokes,” is no different. The work comes directly after the success of “Don’t Think Twice,” the indie movie Birbiglia directed and starred in.

Birbiglia tells the story of hosting the Gotham Awards (and offending famous director David O. Russells), repeatedly coming back to the story while intertwining other jokes. Birbiglia hits on the kind of people who are always late, his relationship with his wife, and the expectations to be constantly funny as a comedian. In the end, he arrives to his overarching message: jokes have the power to bring people together.

It’s  charming, clever, and a little different than most stand-up specials. But like usual, Birbiglia is able to use honesty, emotion, and humor as the basis for a good story.

“Old Baby”

By: Maria Bamford

Mood: Mercurial, Whimsical, Idiosyncratic

Where to Find It: Netflix

Watch the Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KPppxWCnlMM

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Recent U commencement speaker, Maria Bamford’s “Old Baby,” is wonderfully eccentric.

Unlike anything I’ve ever seen, Bamford performs in a variety of strange locations for varying crowd sizes. She starts her set alone in the mirror, eventually ending in a packed theatre. In between she moves between an array of spaces: performing for one person in her own living room, a few folks at a hot dog stand, a small group in a bowling alley. Bamford explained the bit was inspired by a friend who once told Bamford that she gets funnier with more people watching.

Like her show “Lady Dynamite,” Bamford successfully blends personal experience and hyperbole. She touches on a variety of familiar topics, including living with mental illness, persistent anxiety, and her new marriage -- with, of course, her distinct mix of silly voices and wacky one-offs.

“Oh Hello on Broadway”

By: John Mulaney and Nick Kroll

Mood: Ridiculous, Foolish, Unruly

Where to Find It: Netflix

Watch the Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YPQL8RbwckU

In “Oh Hello,” Nick Kroll and John Mulaney play Gil Faizon and George St. Geeglan, a fictional pair of theatre aficionados and brash curmudgeons from the Upper East Side. Basically, the two are more abrasive and unaware versions of Statler and Waldorf.

The two comedians have been performing the characters for many years now and it shows. Kroll and Mulaney have their personas mastered, whether it's the distinct factoids about the characters’ murky past or their use of overly mispronounced vowels. Gil and George are hyper specific and highly referential, but somehow Kroll and Mulaney pull off even the most niche jokes.

Performed as a mock play, Kroll and Mulaney poke fun at a variety of theatre tropes, including the post-modern practice of yelling at the audience, ending lines with everyday dialogue, and a one-sided telephone call. The show’s amount of purely hilarious moments is honestly astounding.

Bonus: “A Guy Name Fieri Filled with Fury”

By: Shane Torres

Mood: Sly, Clever, Amusing

Where to Find It: iTunes

Watch the Joke: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JK6zuii2OLI

I saw Shane Torres perform a set last spring at the Comedy Corner Underground on 7 Corners near West Bank. Torres’ take defending Guy Fieri had me doubled down in tears.

Since then, the 4-minute joke has been featured in Vulture, AV Club, and Paste Magazine. And for good reason. Torres’ impassioned defense of the reality chef is absolutely gut busting.

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Well, there you have it. A completely non-exhaustive list of some great comedy from my recent memory. Make sure you are putting aside time for a good laugh.