In the echoed opening of Graham Chapel, around 400 people sat in pews Thursday night listening to early 2000s jams as we waited for the fall comedy show to begin. The event hadn’t started, and I’d already spoken to still-enthusiastic students who had been waiting in line for five hours and also witnessed a B&D guard nearly make a student cry with threats to kick her out of the line. And while the night was fantastic overall, it would get worse before it got better.
Mike Recine, a New York-based but New Jersey-bred comedian known best for his stand-up, opened for famed “Saturday Night Live” writer and current co-anchor of the “Weekend Update” Colin Jost. Based on Recine’s credentials as a past (and soon to be repeated) performer on “Conan,” I figured him to be the appeasement for comedy purists irritated with representation of “SNL” over stand-up names.
His comedy style, most represented by cynicism and dark humor, had me sometimes laughing despite myself, sometimes nervously smiling and sometimes just surprised at how close he was to the line. Over the course of his time slot, he weaved an analogy comparing black women to robots, made potentially offensive remarks about LGBTQIA* people (with the disclaimer that he doesn’t consider himself a homophobe), joked at the expense of overweight individuals, commended Adolf Hitler for his confidence and quipped about eventually having to drown his autistic brother.
“Some students kind of take it in the name of comedy and think it’s funny. Obviously, I don’t endorse a lot of the things—a lot of the views he said seriously,” Social Programming Board president and senior Rahool Bhimani said. “But, you know, some people—I think it was a little past their comfort zone.”
Though Recine had a respectable amount of Washington University-specific jokes— “Give a hand for mozzarella sticks!” he said at the beginning of his performance—it’s hard to imagine that these jokes wouldn’t land in the wrong place for many students, given how socially progressive the students at Wash. U. generally are.
Adding to my disappointment was the fact that at least two of his bits—almost word for word—were ones he did during his performance on “Conan” in May 2014. I know that comedians often have to recycle their bits, but it was disheartening that so much of his routine was just that—routine.
On the other end of the spectrum, Jost’s performance was stellar. His set was catered to Wash. U., and he joked for around 10 minutes about a Wash. U. facts sheet that SPB gave him, with notes about long stir-fry lines, the baby bear on campus, the rivalry with Fontbonne University and Tempur-Pedic beds.
He rarely resorted to offensive or needlessly vulgar humor. In fact, much of the opening of his act was about taking Wash. U. privilege to task. “You guys are going to die in the real world,” he said, after reading that Wash. U. has a fund set aside just for tulips to beautify campus.
Throughout the night, his self-targeted laughs and use of the entire expansive stage brought a genuineness to his act, and frequent back and forth dialogue with the audience really brought home his quickness of wit. His topics were timely, and he often hit on the importance of the presidential election—and the presidential debate coming to campus early next month.
“I hope you appreciate it, and not take it for granted, like your Tempur-Pedic mattresses,” Jost said.
Among his fairly realistic imitations of Donald Trump (“Donald Trump is definitely going to make comedy great again. I don’t know about America, but…”) and nearly verbatim reenactments of some of Trump’s biggest faux paus was a serious message about taking the national outrage going on and turning it into a useful impetus. He spoke of how people get riled up about the vote and then don’t show up on election day.
In the midst of his political humor, Jost took a minute to be serious with students about alienating others during the pre-election season.
“I think there are actually a lot of Trump supporters who are not racist, who are very reasonable, even intelligent people who have worries, legitimate worries, and when you call them dumb and racist, then they say, ‘We’re not going to vote for Hillary. She’s alienating us.’ So just be careful,” he said. “Listen to people—hear people out. I wish there was a joke there.”
The only disappointing thing about Jost’s performance is that more students weren’t there to watch it. Despite the logistically motivated change from a Wednesday to a Thursday night, Graham Chapel was far from full, especially compared to other artists.
“We’ve had higher attendances in the past. We’ve also had lower attendances in the past,” Bhimani said. “Especially early in the semester, people have a lot going on.”
Even to the performers, the empty rows in the first floor of the Chapel were noticeable.
“It’s like ghosts of all the people I’ve failed,” Recine said, then commenting about how the small scatters of students in the back made him think someone was going to assassinate him.
Though Graham Chapel was not at capacity, the students who were there really seemed to enjoy the show, and a significant amount of people knew Jost’s work.
“I’ve definitely watched ‘SNL’ a lot, and I knew him from that, so when I heard that he was coming, I was very excited to know about his stand-up,” sophomore and audience member Jessica Trevisan said. “It’d be really awesome to watch ‘SNL’ now and be like ‘Oh, I have this personal experience seeing him!’”
The two comedians’ focus on Wash. U. was noticeably different than other SPB comedians in the past, and many audience members commented on how the interactivity and specialization of jokes to Wash. U. stereotypes and contexts made the show feel more personable.
“I was extremely happy with the fact that they made it personal to Wash. U.,” SPB Comedy Director and sophomore Rachel Thornton said. “I thought they catered a lot of their jokes to that.”
Both performers are extremely relevant right now, as Recine goes back on “Conan” this Tuesday, and Jost will take off from stand-up and sit behind the “Weekend Update” desk once again. Jost even commented that there’s a chance Wash. U. students will see a rendition of the town hall debate enacted on Saturday Night Live this season.
Despite the less-than-sensitive performance by Recine and surprisingly not-full attendance, the night was one to go in the books, as Jost provided a great combination of stand-up, improv and writing-based material. Or as senior Matthew Herman, last spring’s comedy show student opener said, “It was a rampant ride of emotion. It was pretty good; I enjoyed it. Thumbs up. I laughed, I cried, I lost 10 pounds.”