Right off the bat, let’s acknowledge something with this title—the one I’ve imposed on this review, admittedly. Trust Me is not a “debut.” Kurt Braunohler has been a force within alternative comedy for years, from his Nerdist podcast, to the short-lived IFC game show Bunk, to his first comedy album (tellingly and entertainingly released through the left wing punk label Kill Rock Stars). That’s not to mention the host of projects he’s contributed to in the meantime. Braunohler is, more or less, a known entity, if not a known quantity—he’s always been ready and willing to surprise us. But this is his Comedy Central debut, his first actual hour-long special, and to a certain extent, as far as the larger community consuming comedy through major outlets is concerned, that counts as a first impression.
And he makes an interesting one. Despite his operating conceit—that over the course of the hour he will try and convince us that he is not to be trusted—Braunohler, in his Portland-friendly attire and charming ginger beard, is eminently trustable. For the first part of this special, he seems to be playing it rather safe with Ansari-esque rhythms and tales of sort-of awkward kind-of misadventures in restaurants, canoeing and marriage, and it’s surprising. But Braunohler is smart enough to inject his entire performance with a caveat from the word go. “I love your town,” he says of Portland, before his intro music has even fully faded out. “....However….” This both earns a laugh and adds a sense of pleasant unease—something else is coming, though we can’t say what or when. It makes one curious as to why the first half of the hour is so conventional, if still funny. A deliberate play to the audience at hand.
But the twists do come, and they come hard. As soon as Braunohler’s stories begin to bite more, the special really shifts into gear. His recollections of a job hosting a miserable prank show and a terrifying non-experience with a deadly shooting abroad, in addition to a vicious, hysterical faux-attack on the logic behind the Irish potato famine, signals a distinct shift within Trust Me. We are suddenly both grateful and excited at the idea that this special has stopped pulling its punches. Braunohler is darker, sillier and more playful than we’ve seen him—though, at the same time, more serious.
Braunohler’s sudden turn to overtly political territory takes us off-guard completely, in a way that’s both refreshing and satisfying. His astonished appraisal of his own lucky circumstance as a tall, white man takes the form of very real, very specific and very disturbing statistics about police brutality towards black men. “The street I walk down is a fundamentally different one than a black man walks down, and a woman walks down,” says Braunohler, before launching into a series of absurd statements designed—in his words—to “undermine the authority given white speech.” Not to pat white men on the back for saying some basic human decency stuff, but this is a Comedy Central special, and I have to applaud Braunohler for using this particular platform so aggressively and responsibly, while never sacrificing the comic tone it’s in his best interest to cultivate.
The surprises don’t stop there, but I wouldn’t want to spoil the bizarre and thoroughly wonderful finale that makes you think:
a) I wish the entire set was like this.
b) I wonder if this entire thing was a deliberate attempt to not prime us for something like this.
If that’s true, then Trust Me eventually takes the form of a brilliant coup. But then again—and Baunohler, in his anti-trust endeavors, would probably agree—who’s to say?
Graham Techler is a New York-based writer and actor. Follow him at @grahamtechler.