Josh Gondelman’s name should ring some bells for the perpetually online. His is the type of profile that often comes up on your Twitter feed, regardless of if you follow him, because he’s that consistently funny. Besides being omnipresent on Twitter, though, Gondelman is the sort of beloved comedian who pops up everywhere, whether he’s writing for Desus & Mero or Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (which earned him a Peabody and multiple Emmys), or appearing on NPR (including opposite comedy whiz Emma Eun-joo Choi).
Accolades aside, Gondelman’s new comedy special People Pleaser is sure to endear him to fans both new and old. His delivery is at times self-conscious, not in a way where he lacks confidence, but highlighting just how aware he is that this is a performance. Gondelman easily interacts with the audience, calling out reactions to various subjects (the crowd is into moms and dogs, but not grandmothers, he observes), and it’s clear he doesn’t take his time on stage for granted.
His joke writing is exquisite: clever and creative, but still accessible. Certain moments of word play feel George Carlin-esque, particularly one where Gondelman analyzes the phrase “health scare.” While there are overarching themes to People Pleaser—namely the pandemic and his wife—the bits are fairly segmented and could stand alone, perfect for those short clips that are shared on social media. That’s not a criticism, either; Gondelman has his callbacks, and it speaks to his writing chops that his jokes can work both independently and as part of a whole.
When it comes to the longer motifs, Gondelman speaks about the pandemic in a matter-of-fact way that works better than most comedians’ handling of the subject. Some of his bits are loosely framed around what he did during lockdown, while others mention the pandemic in terms of his friends’ love lives. It’s never exactly the focal point, just a very real thing that we are going through and that, naturally, affects his comedy.
As for Gondelman’s focus on his relationship, he’s a wife guy, but in the best way possible. He shares his wife’s opinions—not because, in a 1990s sitcom way, he fears her wrath, but because he has so much faith in her good judgment. As he puts it, taking on her stances as his own is simply a “trust fall into my wife’s brain.” The man has a way with words.
People Pleaser lets Gondelman’s playful, unassuming humor shine. Forget your worries (maybe not too much though—Gondelman is not a fan of “California sober”) for a while and turn on this special. When the world feels like it’s falling apart, an hour of comedy this solid is a welcome refuge.
Clare Martin is a cemetery enthusiast and Paste’s assistant comedy editor. Go harass her on Twitter @theclaremartin.