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A Look Back at the Year in Comedy

A Look Back at the Year in Comedy

Sometimes we’re too close to an idea or feeling to understand it and we need a different entry point. To me, comedy is typically the clearest lens to look into the soul of the culture. And in 2019, a year filled with political turmoil, culture wars, and increasing despair over inequality and the climate, comedy was a way to laugh about everything that was depressing us.

In many ways, 2019 was a year of recovery, of creating new ways to joke about our pain and laugh through the healing process. In other ways, comedy was one of the tools in which we challenged the power structures that oppress us by making fun of them, in comedy clubs and online.

At the same time, the comedy world was its own political and cultural battleground. As comedy culture grows more diverse and inclusive, audiences are increasingly holding comedians accountable for keeping with the times. Notably, some of the most powerful comedians can’t hang, and it’s made for some difficult, ugly moments as we argue over what is acceptable and expected when trying to make each other laugh.

But when I think about 2019 and the important cultural moments, I also think about the funny commentary that helped me understand and get through it all. This list isn’t necessarily the funniest or best from the year but rather the moments that help sum up the joys and pains of life this year. So, here are the 10 moments that defined comedy in 2019:

I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson | “Instagram” and “Focus Group”

It’s been a while since a sketch show so absurd and idiosyncratic has impacted pop culture as dramatically as I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson has. On April 23, Saturday Night Live alum Tim Robinson and The Lonely Island crew dropped six episodes on Netflix packed with painfully awkward and anxious characters crumbling under the weight of their stupidity, cowardice, and arrogance. It was aggressively dumb, thrillingly brilliant, and incredibly reflective.

The comedy lies in how quickly sketches escalate out of control. In “Instagram,” the false modesty a group of women has captioning an Instagram post feels painfully familiar (“When You post a pic of yourself where you look really cute, then you have to say something a little self-deprecating so it doesn’t look like you’re just bragging,” one friend explains) until it quickly devolves into the shockingly grotesque and morbid (“So, are we the pig dicks or the bags of meat?”).

If you strip away the context of “Focus Group,” it becomes about an outsider relentlessly confusing everyone with nonsense before wielding total control by slandering and bullying someone taking their job too seriously. If you don’t see that as a perfect metaphor for our times, then you probably love your mother-in-law. 

Eva Victor explaining straight pride. 

Eva Victor was easily one of my favorite funny people on the internet in 2019. Her work appeared in Reductress, Comedy Central, and The New Yorker, but Victor’s absolute best appeared on her Twitter. “Oh my god, babe, pack your bag, we’re going to straight pride!” is just a fucking brilliant way to start a sketch.