Comedian Seán Devlin hails from Canada, that country often glorified by its more obviously shitty neighbor (hint, hint, it’s the United States) for having universal healthcare, but still steeped in a colonial history that has violent repercussions to this day. Devlin served as a consulting producer on the 2020 Borat sequel, which aimed its sights at the structural inequalities of the US. He brings a similarly extreme cultural curiosity to his debut stand-up album, Airports, Animals, when it comes to exploring discrimination in Canada and beyond.
The record is a sublime blend of political prodding and surreal imaginings, but all still firmly rooted in Devlin’s own experiences as a biracial comic. Taped at Vancouver’s Little Mountain Gallery in 2019, Airports, Animals possesses the rare distinction of being the first comedy release from the Arts & Crafts label, who also represent the likes of Andy Shauf and Broken Social Scene. Devlin soars on his first flight, with his signature gentle delivery and incisive framing elevating the album.
First off, Devlin has one of the most soothing voices in comedy, one that he self-deprecatingly calls boring in an opening bit. His delivery is his secret weapon, though. His calm and collected demeanor allows Devlin to slowly ramp up from dry observations to absurdist situations, testing conventional boundaries and, in doing so, revealing their inherent ridiculousness. Some of the album’s best moments come from Devlin’s negative encounters with authority figures, all of whom he dissects in his own quiet way to expose just how ridiculous they and the system they uphold are.
Devlin also excels in his structuring of the set, the overarching narrative—his journey from one airport to another—becoming a joke in and of itself at times as he meanders back from various tangents. Though the album varies wildly in subject matter, from aquarium monkeys to the downsides of legal marijuana, Devlin’s primary target throughout Airports, Animals is colonialism. The comedian expertly mines the laughable nature of such entitlement while still acknowledging its persistent, harmful nature. He aims deftly, constantly punching up rather than down, and his balmy delivery often results in a hilarious surprise landing.
From the opening moment when Devlin acknowledges the First Nations’ traditional right to the land on which he performs, to his idea for a billionaire version of Hoarders, Devlin breaks apart Western society’s racist, capitalist structure with the elegant precision of a Michelin star chef cracking open an egg. And though there is, of course, a sadness and anger and innate trauma to experiences of discrimination, he finds a way to keep you laughing throughout Airports, Animals. Devlin’s debut ranks among the most thought-provoking and thoroughly funny comedy releases of the year.
Clare Martin is a cemetery enthusiast, hibernophile and contributing writer for Paste’s music and comedy sections. She also exercises her love for reality TV at HelloGiggles every now and then. Go harass her on Twitter @theclaremartin.