Spanning the tail end of April and the beginning of May, Netflix Is A Joke Fest took over Los Angeles with stand-up shows on stand-up shows. A collection of established comics hosted their own showcases throughout Netflix’s first comedy festival, including recent SNL-alum Pete Davidson, whose showcase bore the wholesome title The Best Friends.
Before the special truly begins, we’re treated to a group chat conversation in which the featured comics discuss the lineup; Carly Aquilino wonders if she’s the only female comedian (she is), and Big Wet asks if a musical guest is needed, spurring Davidson to add Machine Gun Kelly to the chat. Then, we cut to Davidson backstage as he walks out to open the show.
“I’ve had a really weird year,” Davidson admitted. “I had an AIDs scare this year…Kanye told me I had AIDs. And he’s a genius so I was like, Oh, fuck. I better call my doctor. The guy who made College Dropout thinks I have AIDs.”
But Davidson continued to say he really went and saw a doctor after West’s assertion because, after all, who knows? Although Davidson cracked a few memorable jokes about the situation, even referencing John Mulaney’s response to the AIDs comment (“You should spread a rumor that he has polio!”) Davidson never actually made fun of West personally and never mentioned Kim Kardashian. The closest he came was hoping West “pulls a Mrs. Doubtfire” and dresses like a housekeeper to be close to his kids but finds himself unable to stray from his signature verbiage, thus blowing his cover.
To close out the brief set, Davidson reflected on the baffling predicament he’s in, the lack of available advice from his friends (even the older ones who always seem to have a nugget of guidance), and the sheer rage some strangers have for him because of Kanye West. Davidson sprinkled jokes throughout this portion, but it’s clear he’s Going Through It™ and the fallout has had an effect.
Following that, rapper Big Wet performed with Davidson serving as the hype man on stage. Interestingly, the showcase is bookended by rappers (Big Wet and Machine Gun Kelly), a reminder Davidson truly does appreciate hip-hop as a genre and work like West’s. In between the musical acts, we’re treated to comics Neko White, Giulio Gallarotti, Carly Aquilino, Dave Sirus, Joey Gay, and Jordan Rock.
The lineup is solid at the start, but sags in the middle and wavers at the end. Gallarotti and Aquilino are mostly forgettable rehashes on tired premises: Gallarotti fell into the cliche of “My issue is dating terrible men but thinking I can fix him,” while Aquilino poked fun at his dad bod without ever using the term “dad bod”—y’know, to keep it original. Dave Sirus managed to give us a new spin on the “weird kid in class” trope but could have used more punchlines throughout. Joey Gay’s revelation about his heart attack paired with his borderline yell-delivery made me nervous we’d witness a cardiovascular catastrophe in real-time—not to say he wasn’t funny, just that I was concerned. And after Jordan Rock performed, Davidson returned to the stage and quipped, “Welp, I’m getting canceled.”
But the most memorable set for me came right at the top with Neko White, if only due to the larger commentary it had for comedy—and society—in general.
White joked about a barber oversharing with him while he’s simply trying to get a fade. The barber went off on a transphobic litany against his child who’s determined they’re actually “a woman inside.” The barber then asked what White would do if he were in the same situation.
To illustrate to the barber and current audience his hypothetical response, White embarked on an elaborate physical bit in which he pantomimed entering his kid’s room, asks them to take out the trash, and is met with the teary-eyed admission, “I think I’m a girl inside.”
“Hold on,” White said, then acted out stepping back, closing the door, and then reentering with a, “Hey baby girl, could you take the trash out?”
The Los Angeles audience erupted with laughter and applause as White thanked them and left the stage. Two weeks after the Netflix festival, Chapelle would be the surprise opener for a John Mulaney show in Ohio, a show in which he would bombard the audience with transphobic jokes sans consent (i.e., tickets sold with the knowledge Chapelle would perform).
In the past, Mulaney’s standup has focused on his people-pleasing nature (we’re all aware of his proclaimed Best Buy Rewards Card envy and the subsequent exasperation of his now ex-wife), and I can only assume this played into his decision to allow Chapelle to perform. In light of his friendship with Davidson and Davidson’s conscientious comedy, it’s hard for me to see Mulaney as sinister—just spineless. But this brings us back to Neko White.
In a roughly 5-minute set, White managed to depict the proper way of handling other people’s gender identities: minding our own business and respecting their autonomy. And he made it funny. Here’s to hoping Davidson and his best friends can continue drafting a blueprint for comedy that doesn’t punch down but still lands strong.
Brooke Knisley is a freelance journalist and comedy writer. She has balance issues. Let her harass you on Twitter @BrookeKnisley.