There’s a frenetic energy channeled by some millennial comedians who, instead of succumbing to all of our self-deprecating tendencies and anxieties, harness them for comedy. That’s not to say other generations haven’t done the same, but we of the remember-9/11-but-will-never-own-houses age group have made it into our—oh god I can’t believe I’m writing this—brand more than those who have come before or after.
Comedian and millennial Chase O’Donnell definitely thrums with an endearing nervousness throughout her comedy special People Pleaser, and that’s by design. After all, she’s a theater major; O’Donnell literally has a degree in being on stage. But playing up her deer-in-the-headlights demeanor maximizes the tension in her jokes, not unlike a less surreal Patti Harrison performance. Occasionally, though, I found myself wanting more of this tension-building from O’Donnell—a theme throughout a special that, while solidly funny, could have been bolder in certain ways.
That said, there’s lots to love about People Pleaser, which was filmed at The Bourbon Room in Los Angeles. The most memorable bits come when O’Donnell chooses to go bigger, whether doing a Samantha Jones shimmy shake or the time step (in pretty chunky boots, which is no easy feat). And even though much of the special is about how she lives up to the people pleaser moniker by avoiding confrontation (staying in a sorority she found superficial, wreaking vengeance on people with vigorous journaling), that doesn’t mean she needs to be meek behind the mic—and for the most part she isn’t. Sure, some of her funniest punchlines are almost throwaway sentences (“I cry a lot” she says timidly before revealing she’s a Pisces), but these are the troughs that make her peaks even punchier. The contrast between a comedian’s silliness and larger-than-life persona on stage and their trepidation around real life social interactions is comedy gold that O’Donnell seems poised to capitalize on in her own singular way.
O’Donnell also shines during crowd work, whether lightly teasing a man about his name or asking Pisces for their birthdays. She clearly understands audiences, with some of her funniest jokes playing on our assumptions. Again, crowd work is another aspect O’Donnell could expand on, but considering the brevity of the special (35 minutes), it makes sense that there’s only so much she could fit in without sacrificing her storytelling.
And that’s the thing—given the length of the special, we get a clear and thoroughly entertaining picture of who O’Donnell is. Not only is she a people pleaser, but a Disney Channel fan, grown-up theater kid, Pete Davidson lookalike, and so much more. While not all of her jokes stick the landing, O’Donnell’s writing is effective in introducing us to her as a comedian and a person. People Pleaser proves just how much O’Donnell deserves a full hour to properly showcase her talent.
People Pleaser is streaming for free on YouTube.
Clare Martin is a cemetery enthusiast and Paste’s assistant comedy editor. Go harass her on Twitter @theclaremartin.