Stand-Up Comics and the Parent Trap

Oct 27, 2022 · 159 comments
Lily (West Virginia)
I'm not familiar with Louis CK on parenthood but Bill Cosby's oeuvre about it was hilarious. Like the one about chocolate cake. Sad that he turned out to be a creepy criminal and I had to add his name to the list of talented creatives who are also despicable human beings. But the chocolate cake bit is still funny.
Dale In NYC (Manhattan, NY)
Dave Chapelle has a better take on new fatherhood, about how his sons embarrass him and break his cool.
NoName (Texas)
Gotta agree with this piece.. watching comics joke about their children and their explosive diarrhea just didn't make me laugh, I didn't cringe but it wasn't funny...
Jacob Tobias (Oakland, CA)
There _is_ an endless variety, not “are.”
Fumble Door (United Kingdom)
It’s not fair to Louis C.K. to remember his name with Bill Cosby. He might have done disgusting things but surely not rape or even criminal. I miss his comedy. Better Things deteriorated a lot after he was ousted from it.
Avi (The Net)
Calling out the incredibly coarse lumping of Bill Cosby and Louis C.K. into the same bin. Not even close on the spectrum of sexual violence.
Sandy (over there)
I want more Demetri Martin.
Lunar Bigfoot (The Moon)
I love Seth Meyers, but this the reason I never watched Lobby Baby. Yes, we get it, your wife gave birth in your building’s lobby. Nice anecdote, but I don’t care to hear a whole standup show about it. Let’s also talk about those children books that he and the unfunny hack Fallon peddle quarterly.
Sam18 (Bronx62)
Only question really about anything that calls itself comedy: did you laugh. Did you really laugh, a lot. Was it a real hard deep choking laugh? Was it FUNNY? If not, not. You know how I know something’s NOT really funny? Someone SAYS ‘That’s funny’. Then, to me, it’s not. Comedy is hard…right?
Wolf (Brooklyn)
You missed the most hilarious joke these men shared! Saying "WE" got pregnant.
Gary Arsenault (Norfolk, Virginia)
@Wolf Actually, I think that it's women who promote biological impossibility.
Suri (DC)
@Gary Arsenault Super gross to see two men discussing this in the comments! Not needed by any women reading this, I can promise you.
jb (ok)
@Wolf , it’s not so bad. I remember back in the not-so-good old days when a young woman would be said to have “gotten herself pregnant.” No joke.
L (Loc)
I love my kids and love talking about them. All you tedious people here can go pound sand.
John Norton (Denver)
Using family for laughs, just like Ted Cruise. If you're gonna do it, as this piece suggests, it better be good. So many comedians are such jerks, it's no surprise they "virtue signal" by publicly announcing their new status. Facebook used to (Do they still?) forbid posting photos of kids. It stopped no one. The family album dragged out for strangers, globally, for eternity. Leave the kids alone! The FCC should ban celebrities from mentioning their offspring on late night talk shows. I don't recall Orson Welles or Angie Dickinson doing it. Did they have kids? Who knows? Who cares? We'll never know, and thank God for that. Frank Sinatra had at least one. There may be some legal hassles enforcing such a rule, perhaps a memo, a note, from network brass? Then maybe I'll check in on Kimmel or Colbert now and again.
Kevin C (Boston)
Frankly, I find the thesis of this article bizarre. The well of parenthood, one of the most universal, individual, and complex parts of the human experience, is not tapped for humor. Imagine if this author wrote “Ok, guys, I think we covered this whole love thing. No more songs about that anymore, please. Also, no books about sadness anymore. We get it.” Also, the author might be revealing his age here a bit. No young person is hitting the archives and listening to the old Cosby specials before moving onto more modern stuff. What may be well trodden territory to you is new and novel to a younger person.
Ben (San Antonio)
Mr. Zinoman, you and I had far different interpretations of Hasan Minhaj newest special. Seemed to me that Minhaj used his family as a foil to explain his continued desire to satirize the greedy and powerful. When speaking of his family, Minhaj used humor to explain the retaliation from those who are targets of his social humor. Examples included threats from law firms threatening him with a libel suit - Minhaj joked about "investors" who borrow money to liquidate businesses - likening then to those who love pedophiles, aka Jeffery Epstein. Then the hilarity of explaining First Amendment law to a lawyer. Or the jokes about the Saudis. In my mind, that is not about parental humor, but his desire to continue using humor to address serious, social justice. Frankly, I thought Minhaj was brilliant. Have you considered an Anton Ego perspective on enjoying someone else's creation?
Bartleby S (Brooklyn)
The vast majority of entertainment viewership now resides in paid subscription services such as Netflix, which caters each individuals menu based on algorithms made to suggest what you might watch next based on things you have already watched. Keep watching the things you think are funny, if you are in the majority, you will find more of such.... right? Or maybe your tastes don't fit into the mainstream and you have to search harder for your gold. That used to be a point of pride. Carful what you wish for folks.
Geoff Burrell (Western Australia)
Content is so proscribed these days I'm not sure it's still possible to be humorous. It's a bit like food, remember when you could just enjoy eating the stuff?
Doug (New Orleans)
Thank you for saying what no one else would.
Rosa Klebb (russia)
I enjoyed the first Hasan Minhaj stand up show and also his series - so was interested to see this latest show wow - so disappointing - just awful the first long and tedious and not funny set was all about he and his wife's attempt to get pregnant - after which I abandoned the show maybe somewhat interesting if you're remotely interested in this topic but it was relentlessly hetero + boring as all get out i suppose his absolute peers - urban, hetero, 30s - into having a baby etc - might - just might- relate for me it was just completely boring plus he got a little nasty with the audience when he was slightly challenged - not an attractive look - he looked mean
bo (north of New york)
Cheap sentimentality, especially done for profit, and virtue signaling, and, often, some ridicule of family members slipped in on the side - gross. Parents who brag about how big their feelings are, how much they would do for their kids? Really? Really? Will you maintain a successful marriage for them? Will you skip a golf game? What about spending some more time with them? No? Ok. Right. "Anything." Check.
Mooße (Philadelphia)
44 is young? If Jena Friedman thinks that word is meant to disparage mothers rather than the person being actually targeted, she does not know how words work.
Eric Schenk (Mill Valley, CA)
Thank you for writing this piece. As someone who has always enjoyed Nick Kroll’s comedy, I was almost nauseous listening to him resort to the “I just became a father and now you have to like me or else you hate babies” shtick. It’s like someone making you look at 100 photos from their vacation. The comics Bible should contain a commandment that you can’t do more than two minutes on the “unbelievably transcendent”moment of becoming a parent. It’s cheap and belongs in a church, not a performance venue.
pedro (Argentina)
I rreally miss George Carln!
Chip (Wheelwell, Indiana)
I'm guessing we have a new baby boom on our hands, from the looks of it.
KxS (Ottawa)
There is nothing funny about having kids. Ask any parent.
Brian (Maryland)
Watched them both. Isn’t it well established Netflix comedy specials are a mixed bag? It’s all about money for the comedians and why not? Netflix is paying tons of money for specials. Both specials are duds.
Joy Mars (Provence)
“…making a smaller version of yourself can just as easily lead to a more insular, selfish life.” “Can”? Try “does.” And leave out “just as easily.”
Luann Nelson (Asheville, NC)
I have never been so close to suicide as having to listen to a relative who shall remain nameless yammering on about sleep training.
J (New York)
BORING. Hard pass. The greats are free on YouTube. Watch them and laugh, instead of waiting for an hour never to giggle.
Tex Hayabusa (Silicon Valley)
Sharp, fresh, insightful, and funny. Nice work, Mr. Zinoman. More essays like this please.
Sandy (over there)
Probably in the minority here, but I don't find Minhaj funny. I think it was his appearance on Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.
Jonas (CT)
Ughh, I hate when male comics drop jokes about their kids and parenting in a way that’s kind of pandering to show how “Joe Everyman” they are. It’s cringe inducing to me and I’m glad this author pointed it out and called them out for it not being funny.
Lissa (Virginia)
I laughed out loud at Kroll’s special; haven’t see the other two. The thing I’m increasingly bored with: Men only being able to be empathic when it hits them personally. Nick Kroll, not too long ago, was making misogynist jokes. Let’s hope he raises his son with an awareness of the rest of us earlier than Nick did.
Saums (Boston)
Hasan Minhaj’s special tied in some parts with fatherhood but it was so much more. It spoke about the privilege of being an American that you can expose people using a joke and the law allows it! The Saudi government wants to arrest him because he joked about them. I hope he comes back with new episodes of Patriot act. The author seems to hate kids or parenting that some moments used to build up a story were unacceptable.
Susan Russell (Gettysburg PA)
TIG NOTARO!! Tig's brilliant all around--including in this arena! Don't forget to mention TIG next time!!!
RailBird (New York, NY)
even the great Spalding Gray, a hero of mine, fell victim to this. one of his last monologues "Morning, Noon & Night" concerned his adventures in family-ing. and his edge, humor, and original way of looking at the world had all been softened into mush
Kristine Kinsey (Knoxville, TN)
I was a standup comic for about 10 years, and now I'm a Pre-K teacher. While I certainly mined motherhood for comedy when my kids were young, I will tell you that it would be nothing compared to the comedy I could write about working the preschool crowd. I know everything that goes on in every kid's house, because 4-5 year olds are terrible secret keepers. I can also tell what kind of parent someone is by the kind of naughty their kid is. But the standup circuit is a dumpster fire, for the most part, so I'm content to just work my material for the other teachers. (Cheap hotels and road food are best left to those who don't yet have a mortgage and acid reflux.) And even though I have to dumb the material down a lot, kids are a very appreciative comedy audience, as long as you keep the apple juice flowing (the 2-drink minimum is inescapable). What's interesting between the years since Ali Wong broke the glass ceiling for mom comics and now is how trendy parenthood became among comics. When I was doing standup, there weren't a lot of moms out there. So few, in fact, that when the NickMom channel started a comedy showcase for moms about 10 years ago, they struggled to find enough of us to be on the show! (It remains my claim to fame, ha.) Now parenthood in comedy feels merely performative. Perhaps it's because of how universal it is that it can no longer be seen as original to make jokes about it, even though it's the most relatable content in the world.
Susan Russell (Gettysburg PA)
@Kristine Kinsey --I'm sure you're watching ABBOTT ELEMENTARY! I hope so! My mom was an elementary school teacher for 35 years and she thinks this show is spot on. Wonderful writing & acting!
Calm Blue Ocean (Canada)
@Kristine Kinsey Every decade or era seems to have a defining “type” of comedy. The 60’s and 70’s had a lot of political humour, for example. The last few decades have had more young female comedians, which is great. A lot of them covered the topics of their dating and intimate lives in graphic detail-and the disappointments thereof. Initially that was edgy and cool, but it’s pretty dull now. The parenting topic has been done well by a few comics and was interesting because so few talked about it in the past. It was funny to hear men talk about the monotony of convincing a toddler to put their shoes on. Like, wow, men also get to waste their day dealing with unreasonable little monsters. It’s fair to say though that the topic is being over-worked if every comedian on earth feels compelled to devote 5 minutes to it.
Alex (Atlanta)
Children have become the most meaningful parts of many American parents’ lives. While understandable, this is a symptom of a myopic selfishness inherent in us but also to some degree in all human beings. My nuclear family matters, my life’s work is to make sure they get ahead, as close to the top of the heap as possible. That just about sums up most parents’ religion. We are indeed a flawed species and this very Achilles heel will be our downfall.
Gary (New Mexico)
Years ago when my kids were younger I knew a dad whose daughter was in my daughter’s class. Whenever I saw him I’d ask, “How are you?” and he’d immediately launch into an endless disquisition about his kids. I always wanted to interrupt and say, “I didn’t ask about your kids. I asked about YOU.” I never did, though. In my limited experience, this sort of redirection to the kids is especially typical of upper middle class suburbia. Tedious recitations of their amazing achievements, grueling academics, multi-instrument playing, sports victories, blah blah blah, when what I wanted was an adult conversation with another adult. It seems the poisoned chalice has now been passed on to a new generation whose maundering about the kids isn’t confined to a backyard party or the PTA meeting. I’ll be avoiding these comics for the next 25 years or so.
JJ (California)
I actually really enjoyed Kroll’s special- I had never watched any of his standup before but was familiar with him mainly from Parks and Rec. The way he spoke of his wife and child made me appreciate him so much more. I thought… oh so he does have some depth to him. I appreciate it when comedians can show some sincerity and vulnerability during their set. It makes them more likable and relatable to me. I like the juxtaposition of the sober wonder and reflection with their looney antics and hilarious zings. And even though I’m not a parent, I’ve worked with children my whole career as a tutor, teacher, nanny, etc… To me, kids will always make great fodder for jokes- and I think parenting too. It’s universally relatable- we are all someone’s child, and many have children- parenting jokes and bits. will never go away- but I don’t think they need to.
Ludwig Van (Grand Rapids)
Mike Birbiglia once said in an interview regarding his material about parenthood, something to the effect of: “If you don’t like it, maybe it’s not for you. Birbiglia’s material is about the uncomfortable, unspoken reality that many men don’t really want children, but end up having them nonetheless. While it’s true that women almost always carry the biggest burden of raising children, they also, often, want children from a very young age. Men have a different emotional journey into parenthood, and it’s certainly not easy for many. Why shouldn’t male comics talk about this?
baba (ganoush)
Nick Kroll’s comedy special is like a chain store sub sandwich. It’ll do if there’s nothing else around, but there’s nothing very tasty or memorable.
Jon Banning (Seattle)
@baba. Nick’s special was magic.
Princeton (NJ)
The larger trend operating here is to take common events and turn them into extraordinary happenings. Going to college, becoming an adult, being a parent, owning a pet (pet parent, please!) etc. Everyone has to feel special, often by exaggerating, pretending something is unique or now so different, or performing virtuousness or trauma of some kind.
J (MA)
For some great child free comedy do check out Ricky Gervais' bit on not wanting a kid because it would grow up to be too spoiled.
Nate (Westchester)
Guys - Kroll’s special is not centered on becoming a parent. It is about so much more than that. Even so, as a young Dad, I appreciated the parts about fatherhood. They legitimately resonated. Is that so bad? It’s unfortunately common for men not to express their emotional experience of becoming a father. I know this first hand, and would hope we can still show appreciation for the impulse to do so…even if the jokes are not your vibe.
Bartleby S (Brooklyn)
Maybe we all need to just live permanently in our own micro categories, custom made for our "unique," social media experiences. It's obvious that we no longer share any commonality... especially if it's coming from another socio-gender related demographic.
Rose Martin (San Francisco)
What the world needs now is more men criticizing other men for sharing joy, and vulnerability at being a parent for a few minutes. Wait, strike that, reverse it! The article and many of the comments remind me very much of Hannah Gadsby‘s groundbreaking special about what a toxic arena comedy is. And this article fits squarely into the category for me. What a toxic attitude to take toward men embracing fatherhood. We’ve gone far too long with the opposite, and it hasn’t served humanity one bit.
BA (On earth)
About 10 years ago, we saw Paula Poundstone at a small renovated theater in Connecticut. We were profoundly disappointed. She spent a lot of time complaining about her kids. For that, I could have called a number of friends or family members, and not spent any money on tickets. And frankly, it would have been funnier. Someone in the comments mentioned the Seth Meyers Netflix show where he talks about his wife having one of their children in the lobby of their building. It was hilarious, but I'm surprised she didn't change the locks after she got home from the hospital.
Randy (SF, NM)
@BA All I remember from a Poundstone show about ten years ago is her baggy striped pants and old jokes about her cats watching her shower, both from her 80s heyday.
Charles Gonzalez (Sacramento)
“Lobby Baby” is one of the best stand-up bits I’ve seen in a long time.
Howard G (New York)
Joan Rivers liked to tell the story about when she was flying on an airplane in the late stages of her pregnancy - when suddenly she went into labor in mid-air -- "I was seated in coach - they laid me down on the floor in the aisle - the baby came out in first class - on the other side of the curtain - and they wouldn't let me see her until after we landed" -- Please let us know when you can come up with a comedian as sharp-witted, talented, and in touch as Joan Rivers was -- and still is...
Kids aren't that funny (Vermont)
As someone who finds absolutely nothing funny about parents joking about kids, I'll stay young by watching Taylor Tomlinson. Her crowd work about dating, and her open and funny talk about being bipolar, is fantastic. If she has kids, I'll move on to the next up-and-coming comic. There is a deep bench of hilarious people out there these days, love that we have so much to choose from. Even the 11 comics currently doing unfunny baby jokes.
Jay Thornton (Canada)
I like this article. My wife and I watched Kroll’s special- we really liked the first couple of seasons of bigmouth so we had expectations - but wow was it unfunny. I think it was entertaining in retrospect but when it was framed as comedy, well you are basically looking for the element of surprise- nothing is more funny than being tricked into looking at something differently. I think this article nails it - if it is sentimental in any way - it’s predictable and belongs in a different category or not done at all. In the framework of bigmouth krolls humour works well - it takes our adult sentimentality of those years and reminds us how brutal it was (in a funny way) - the exact opposite of his special There are a lot of great comedians right now - Netflix and the others need to show them taking chances.
Amy (Fayetteville, NC)
@Jay Thornton I had the same reaction to Minaj's special. Waaayyy too much sentimentality.
eli (chicago)
Everybody Loves Raymond was funny because, as they said, "It's not about the kids."
Diane wilson (Australia)
@Eli my favourite is Frasier...we are still watching all the repeats...not much about kids in that either!
percy (usa)
@eli Oh, it was about the kids - Frank and Marie's boys.
Donnajoy (Roslyn)
Robin Williams was the first comedian I ever heard discuss new parenthood when his first child was born. He was hysterical as usual. However my husband & I and our children were much younger therefore his bit was very relatable. It may not resonant as much if I heard it today as we are we are all much older. Much older😉
Lisa (Auckland, NZ)
British comedian Michael McIntyre mines the experience of parenthood to hilarious effect, in my opinion. Parents raise the next generation of nurses, doctors, rest home workers and all the others who will be crucial to looking after us in our old age and paying the taxes so that we get our pensions. Yet it's a fairly thankless task a lot of the time. It's fun to have someone who "gets it" crack you up.
M (Los Angeles)
These comics need to focus on newer terrain like dating, marriage, the differences between men and women*, anxiety, drinking, eating, small annoyances, words being weird, pop culture . . . I mean COME ON!
Alex (Atlanta)
Yes you are right in your sarcasm. All good topics for jokes have already been mined and that leaves just one topic unexplored. Comedians are really breaking new ground talking about their kids.
Dan (Philadelphia)
Airplane food--what's up with that...?
Bob (US)
“There are an endless variety of boring people, but none are more brazenly tedious than parents telling you about their kids.” From a father of three who enjoys “boring” other people about stories of his parenting failures and no longer with a life of my own, I’ve seen many of these Netflix comedy specials (who do you think watches these specials - self-loathing middle aged dads, that’s who - I don’t have time to binge The White Lotus). This critique is unfair to Kroll or Hasan whose new specials deal with parenting for like 5 minutes out of an hour. Kroll goes on about his IBS and failed relationships and Hasan about growing up friends with a Patriot Act undercover narc and getting addicted to Twitter likes for being political. I do agree that in talking about their relationships with their new families (focused mostly on their interactions with their wives, not kids) they were shooting for (and coming up short IMO) for what Mike Bribigula successfully achieved years ago in his schmaltzy -less a comedy act more of a one man play- about not wanting to be a father until his daughter was about 2. Look it up on Netflix.
Vin (Nyc)
Given the headline and the feature photograph of Nick Kroll, I thought this would be an article about how the entertainment business is a den of nepotism full of people with rich parents.
M (Los Angeles)
@Vin i'm sure having an incredibly wealthy family has made getting a comedy career off the ground much easier for him, but I don't think he had family in the biz (nepotism), and he is really very funny. That's just me of course. And I still rewatch Kroll Show every once in a while.
Jeffrey Puckett (Louisville KY)
Found the comedian.
Diane (PNW)
I watched the Hasan Minhaj and Nick Kroll specials on Netflix and something was off about them. Nick Kroll kept talking about um, going to the bathroom, but in a very crude and unrelenting way. I thought Seth Meyers routine was much more solid and witty--he described his wife giving birth in the lobby of their NY apartment building.
Nicholas (Texas)
Kroll is not so much a comedian as he is a scion of obscene wealth who can do two or three annoying voices.
Randy (SF, NM)
@Nicholas Kroll's "Big Mouth" was nothing short of laugh-out-loud brilliance. He didn't have a say in being born rich and he's earning his own money, unlike the parasitic sons of a certain stale circus peanut down in Florida.
lance (texas)
Jim Gaffigan has been spectacularly successful in doing just that. Undeniably one of the all time greats.
Mike (CA)
ridgepablo (USA)
One thing more boring than parents talking about their kids, is new parents (particularly later-life parents) going on to all of us who have had children about the things we have known for decades, yet that they previously didn't care about.
KB (San Francisco)
the best at this, imho, is LA based @jasoncollings. can’t wait for his special to come out (I think filming is next month)
Diane (NYC)
Reading this article and the comments is actually funny and highly entertaining. Thank you all.
lance (texas)
"Ali Wong’s breakthrough work." Sure. lol If you've never heard of Roseanne Barr.
@lance Barr's work was about social class and Wong's is largely about her sex life. They have quite different focuses.
lance (texas)
@Kelton H I wasnt speaking to whatever Roseanne is doing now (mostly being an old racist white lady) but she was the original "domestic goddess". I wasnt even that big of a fan but she deserves credit for it. I watched "Roseanne" for John Goodman.
Freelancer (Brooklyn)
You got to be kidding Roseanne Barr was a huge deal and groundbreaking . I don’t agree with her politics but her standup and tv were great. I greatly doubt that you’re hanging out with the white working class and really know what they think .
Anon (Los Angeles)
Kroll is not funny!
John Norton (Denver)
@Anon Is too!
JCAZ (Arizona)
Another funny one: Sebastian Maniscalco’s new “Daddy versus Doctor” podcast.
Kylie M (San Francisco, CA)
I have one sister-in-law who makes me cry with laughter talking about stuff her son does to embarrass her in public. I have another that makes me want to cry from boredom when she talks about her kids (which is all she talks about). I’d still probably take that over my mother-in-law who likes to share mundane details about the lives of her friends who I do not know. Some parents are funny and some are tedious.
Jackson Chameleon (Tennessee)
Nick Kroll is comes from one of the richest families in the country, I think he'll be okay no matter what happens.
Claude (NYC)
Uh, not to quibble, but these may be first-time parents but I wouldn’t exactly call them young….
Ernest Senior (Upstate NY)
Punk songwriter Ed Hammell has wild parenting songs as well as well as hilarious stories about his trying to join the PTA. Just when I had a passing thought as to whether a kid should hear any of his material, I turned around and saw his teenage son working the merch table. Nice kid, seems to be working out okay.
JLC (Denver)
How did they miss Mike Birbiglia‘a special “The New One”? Sure it’s 3 years old but in pandemic age it’s only a few months. Anyways he has SUCH a unique and hilarious take on being a parent- a life he never really wanted and doesn’t seem to really want, all while still loving his wife and daughter. Highly recommend !!! Also I have to say I loved Nick Kroll’s take on how no one has patience for their mom when they do everything for us. So funny so true.
phil (Boston)
There is nothing more boring than a parent talking/complaining/whatever about their kids. Comedians talking about their kids is no exception.
lance (texas)
@phil Jim Gaffigan manages to do it constantly.
Susie (New Jersey)
@lance Jim Gaffigan makes it believable because he has the attitude that these kids are killing me, they’re taking over. Relatable to both parents and non parents.
jl (nyc)
Jim is the Jay Leno of comics now... truly unfunny in my opinion.
I don't think the problem is that parenthood is a dull subject for jokes. Louis CK did tons of jokes about being a parent, and it's some of the best comedy anyone has ever done. But that's because he's one of the best comedians ever. It's the comedian that makes jokes hilarious or dull, not the subject.
Joseph (Stamford)
@RT Agreed re Louis but I think even he has said he will avoid territory that has been gone over many times.
Chris38 (Kansas)
Iliza Shlesinger seemed to bend over backwards in her special “Hot Forever” to not talk about new motherhood, which just seemed odd, given that she had a six month old baby. Ok, fine. But then she doubled down it, making jokes about all the dumb stuff men do when they first bring a girl home. She wasn’t relating stories her single friends shared, which would have made sense, it was more like a thought experiment. It was really disappointing when “Elder Millennial” was so good.
Nominae (Santa Fe, NM)
@Chris38 Iliza Shlesinger has a top quality comic mind - and is an incredible comedy writer, performer, and dramatist. Her routines, however, have taken a bit of a nose dive lately, since she got married and had a child. Not that marriage and childbirth are a "killer of comedy", Joan Rivers was proof of that, but that what all traveling comics *hate about their profession (endlessly being on the road), seems also oddly to be what sustains some of their best work. Both Shlesinger and a *wonderful Standup named Katherine Ryan *both suffered professionally in the quality of their output once they managed to "live the dream", and get *off the road.
Jon Banning (Seattle)
@Chris38 . Ha! “Elder Millennial” wasn’t good at all.
Hal (Dallas)
Kroll’s comedy special is worth watching. The becoming a father segment is brief. Don’t miss his special due to the need of a critic to come up with a column for print. Okay?
Charles (Los Angeles)
It's funny, or it's not. And people have different senses of humor. Which makes a Comedian Critic maybe even less useful than a Pop Music or Film Critic.
Joseph (Stamford)
@Charles, yes, but things are harder to make funny if they're cliche.
Benderman (South of Philly)
@Joseph …or schmaltz, which for me is poison to a comedian’s routine
Mark (Seattle)
The thing is, very few comedians are funny to everyone for an entire performance. If a part of someone's routine is a little flat, no matter what the subject, that's expected. That doesn't mean I write off the whole comedian, or the whole show, as bad and not worthwhile.
Kylie M (San Francisco, CA)
Chad Daniels and Tom Papa have done plenty of parent bits that I thought were hilarious well before I had a kid.
D. Whit. (In the wind)
Stand up comedy must be a tough gig these days. Just having a conversation is touchy enough.
Ray Mullen (San Francisco)
there is nothing really 'fresh' in comedy - folks just repackage other ideas (even if they themselves don't know other people have already said it). It really is the combination of the repackage and the effects in the telling that makes it. For example, Nick Kroll's newest special has a part about 'Garnishes' that was hilarious.
Joseph (Stamford)
@Ray Mullen Louis CK's take on parenting was sui generis. I don't think anybody had ever discussed the subject with his take on parenting.
ellienyc (New York city)
I haven"t seen any of these specials but the thing that has shocked me over the past 4 or 5 years is late night people like Seth Meyers droning on and on with guests about their kids, like they're 1950s housewives or something. I am a boomer and when I was their age that was the last thing I wanted to hear or see on TV, and my attitude hasn't changed. ⁷
Raye (Seattle)
@ellienyc And when a talk-show guest announces (or the host cues them to announce) that they just had a baby, and the audience goes wild. I like kids, but puh-lease!
Nancy (midwest)
@ellienyc I saw Minhaj's show and Kroll's. I can't recommend either.
Stan (Florida)
Two angles that tend to work well are (1) self-deprecating stories about the comedian's kids scoring points on them, a la Jim Gaffigan, and (2) making fun of children in a way that's so over-the-top unfair that it circles back around to being funny. Louis CK and Cosby were both great at (2), so people are understandably a bit gun-shy with it these days.
Matthew (Philadelphia, PA)
The only thing more tired, banal, and unfunny than stand-up comic jokes about parenting is stand-up comedy critics reviewing them.
Eliza (San Diego)
What else are they supposed to talk about? Pretty much any topic other than parenthood or food gets you cancelled.
Eric (Arthrell)
Very much disagree with the author. It has been so amazing to see these male comics share how impactful becoming a parent has been. So many of our societal problems are linked to men not being involved fathers on the same level as mothers. Hearing top comedians speak about this topic with such authenticity is what our society needs to help men realize that being a father is a massive responsibility. Funny how some commenters here belittle men’s involvement in parenthood and bemoan the (very real) unequal responsibilities that mothers still carry. Shouldn’t these same commenters celebrate when men and new fathers speak so passionately about reorienting their lives toward their children? I hope for a world where men amongst ourselves maintain a stronger level of discourse around fatherhood and the responsibilities we should embody. To me, this creates a clearer path toward a more equal society where women don’t so disproportionately carry the responsibility of parenthood. Good on Minhaj, Kroll, Meyers, and others for leading us closer to this more equal future state.
alex (London)
@Eric I wonder if you’ve missed the point the author was making? To quote the article: “This is lovely, but just because something is the right thing doesn’t make it the most interesting or entertaining.”
Grittenhouse (Philadelphia, PA)
You don't need "fresh" material if you are funny. The great comedians of the 20th century all told more-or-less the same jokes. But it was the way they told them that made them unique. The problem with today's comedians is that they can't tell jokes. They're not very funny. They do hopefully humorous public speaking and that's not comedy.
B (ky)
This is exactly the trap that Natasha Leggero fell into. She's so, so funny, but being a parent---although I'm sure it's full of funny moments---just isn't that funny in and of itself. And let's face it, a lot of these comics' audience is trying to FORGET about being a parent for 5 or 10 minutes.
Retired Teacher (Florentin)
When I became a mom 40 years ago we boomers were reinventing parenthood. My parents of blessed memory had varied opinions. My mother thought that my breast feeding was animalistic but my dad was cool with it. Infants being placed on a blanket on the floor with toys was a shocker! Car seats were confusing (“I’ll just hold the baby on my lap.” No you won’t). And that’s before you needed a video to learn how to install a car seat. We placed babies on their tummies to sleep because we knew that they would aspirate otherwise. We were wrong, too. And Lamaze taught us that childbirth was painless and painkillers were evil. Again wrong and wrong. Good luck to all the new dads and babies. They will be wrong too.
Nancy (Charlottesville, Virginia)
Women seem to do parental comedy better because they generally don't gloss it over ... the act of birth is messy, gross, not something "majestic". They know other women would roll their eyes at that. This generation of young male comics is anything but edgy. They're almost apologetic. Ugh. Jim Gaffigan does parental humor very well because he sees kids for what they are: an interruption in Dad's life and pretty much Mom's responsibility, which is okay with him. He's said that living with children is like living with a house full of drunks. No truer - and funnier - words.
Susie (New Jersey)
@Nancy. I agree Jim Gaffigan is hilarious! I remember watching him complain to his wife about his son’s hippie preschool with their nutty ideas.
SBear (Minnesota)
To quote comedian Doug Stanhope: “Children are like poems. They're beautiful -- to their creators -- but to others they're just silly and annoying.”
Parent of a Teenager (Queens)
Funny, I think it’s the other way around.
The problem isn’t jokes about your kids. It’s edgy semi-vulgar comics trying to pivot to jokes about kids. Comedians like Jim Gaffigan and Brian Regan have made their family central to their routines for years. It’s fits their style.
Susan (Lighthouse)
@KLH Two of the best in "clean" comedy. Brian Regan's bit on going to the eye doctor is comedy gold.
Joseph S (Chicago)
I tried watching Nick Kroll's new standup, and 5 minutes in I was bored. Not sure if it was the parenting humor, or just plain bad jokes. Switched over to Sheng Wang's "Sweet & Juicy" , a comic I had never heard of, and 2 minutes in I am having trouble breathing I am laughing so hard. Comedy is subjective no doubt, but skip Nick and checkout Sheng.
Crunchy Mama (Santa Cruz, CA)
@Joseph S Sheng Wang was such a surprise find. He is fantastic. Glad you are recommending him to others!
Barbara Goglia (Baltimore)
@Joseph S Sheng Wang!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Right on!
Mark M. (Oregon)
Who knew that an article could be written on such an esoteric topic? Here it is, however, and subtly executed with just enough specific comedic content to make the reader desire the full content of the routines: well done.
Peter (Herndon VA)
people talking about their offspring are unambiguously the most tedious people....why comedians think this is funny territory escapes me
Kylie M (San Francisco, CA)
@Peter Crotchety adults who dislike all children as a rule are pretty tedious too.
Canceled Normalman (South Florida)
The problem with these comedians is that they just aren't that funny. Louis CK, for example, got a lot of excellent jokes out of parenthood.
Nick (NJ)
@Canceled Normalman, I know it's an unpopular opinion in the NYT, but Louis CK's material is just so much funnier than any of the people mentioned in this article. This is not a defense of his personal life, just the truth.
Joseph (Stamford)
@Nick Agreed. He is incredibly talented.
Dave (San Francisco, CA)
Nick Kroll is the child of billionaires who used his wealth and connections to break into comedy. Now he's complaining that coming up with original material is hard. Cry me a river.
Editor’s Pick?? (NYC)
This is a very American trend. In cultures where people are less egocentric or materialistic and have children at a younger age, procreation is not a sign of achievement or an excuse for self-aggrandizing . Becoming a parent is an absolute wonder, but it's older first-time fathers who need to show it off, it's so boring. Many of them won't find out the another incomparable joy of late middle age: becoming a grandparent.
Dave (San Francisco, CA)
@Editor’s Pick?? Weird to call these fathers egocentric then condemn them for not having the same life experience that you seek.
c (Pennsyltucky)
@Editor’s Pick?? People are having children later not because they are egocentric but because women are becoming more educated. And now on average more educated than men.
L (Ithaca, NY)
Nick Kroll is a young dad? Isn’t he in his mid 40s? Maybe a dad of young kids, but not a young dad.
Hector (Bellflower)
Now I deeply regret not having children, for they could be trimming my hedges and pulling weeds.
jb (ok)
@Hector , because that’s what children do. All it takes is pregnancy, labor, feeding, walking, clothing, cleaning, teaching them to walk and talk, getting them medical care, taking them to school, being the Easter bunny and Santa Claus, and eventually showing them how to use a hedge trimmer without cutting their thumbs off.
Ben (Long Island)
If I asked my kids to do that they would immediately call child protective services. And my kids are in their 20s
Chip (Wheelwell, Indiana)
@Hector When they're young enough, you can get away with just paying a penny a weed. With inflation, maybe it's a nickel now.
KS (Brooklyn (Park,MN))
And what's the deal with jumbo shrimp?
I suspect that the reason men are less likely to "land" jokes about parenthood than female comics is because so much of the most annoying expectations of parenthood fall onto women -- the doctor's visits, the pregnancy, the judgment. It's hard to find a downside when you are a male being praised for reading a book to your child; it's easy to find it when you are a mother being shamed for not feeding your child the right organic baby food (and heaven forbid you don't breastfeed; people will come after you with knives). Interestingly, Seth Meyers (in his good special Lobby Baby) -- actually has a whole 5-minute riff where he jokes from the perspective of his sarcastic wife. The fact that so much of the practical tasks of parenting (the labor, if you will) still fall to women may be the reason that they can view it with an appropriately jaundiced eye. (Jim Gaffigan -- not mentioned here -- has made a fairly good career out of dad jokes... but they are usually at his own expense, and certainly not edgy.)
Jill (Des Moines)
@RVC Yep, exactly what I was thinking. A lot of men experience mostly the fun part. There's less horrible for them to riff on. Louis C.K. was a single Dad so there you go.
Nick (Chicago)
I will add that the scourge identified in this welcome article does not stop at the stand up mike but continues even more maddeningly on the talk show couch. Nothing turns a potentially funny and interesting guest dull faster than chit chat about his or her children children, where guests so often take refuge almost immediately. To be fair, the hosts are just as often eager to drive them there (looking at you Seth Meyers). On my talk show, when I get one, everyone is single, everyone is available, and no one has children. Finally, a performance note for Nick Kroll. The reason that watching a baby be born is "like" life and creation beginning, is because that is exactly what is happening. Maybe drain the blindingly obvious and not-even-funny tautologies from the act.
Disagree. I think its a step in the right direction.
Eric (Arthrell)
Sparky (NYC)
Thank you for this! Yes, parenthood is pretty remarkable, and most comedians mine their own lives for material, but the odds on any comedian having something fresh, interesting or funny to say about being a new parent is basically the definition of absolute zero.
Angela (U.S.)
I don't have kids, but I absolutely love jokes about new parenthood. I especially love Seth Meyers' retelling of his "Lobby Baby," and Nick Kroll's new Netflix special is hilarious! And, frankly, I don't recall that Kroll spent that much time talking about parenthood? I remember his stories from his childhood most vividly. Anyway, I say, keep it up everybody!
Blackcat66 (NJ)
For some reason most edgy comics just cease to be funny after they have kids. It's as if they forget who their audience and fan base is and try to instead cater to I guess what they think their kid is going to watch. They start trying to to make family friendly movies until they lose most of their original fans. I get it. However parenting humor gets tedious, not everyone's a parent, and ranks somewhere between gross "war" stories of pregnancy that erupt when just one woman starts talking about their pregnancies to observational humor about travel. They mess with the formula that made them famous for a tired genre of comedy.
pjc (Cleveland)
Let's just all move to the Carson phase, shall we?
mark (boston)
If you haven't checked out Nick Kroll and John Mulvaney in their roles in "Oh, Hello" you are missing brilliant comedy.
mark (boston)
@mark And of course it's Mulaney, not Mulvaney
Lisa Richter (Milwaukee, WI)
Awww I couldn’t disagree more! I find it so refreshing that male comics now tackle this topic on a regular basis.
Calm Blue Ocean (Canada)
In our house, we say parents are priceless and worthless. From a supply/demand perspective, there are billions of us so our labor is not special or valuable. To kids, however, parents are a very big deal for their survival and growth. Comedians talking about parenting is very banal. It’s like bathroom humour. Once and awhile a great comedian can make the banal sublime.
Bradley Poster (Vermont)
Brian Posehn used to have a joke where he said “if you hear me going on about my baby , I want you to punch my….baby in the face. Then his partner and he had a baby and he said, “please don’t punch my baby.” Funny but maybe you had to be there.
See also