Would It Kill You to Laugh? is hilarious and deeply uncomfortable. The new sketch comedy special from collaborators (and best friends) Kate Berlant and John Early thrives on the same absurdism as I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson, which both comedians appear in (Berlant as the owner of the Garfield house and Early as a credit card roulette loser). However, the charged dynamic between Berlant and Early—whether they’re playing friends or enemies or spouses—is the secret ingredient that makes the special its own discomfiting, uproarious wonder. The pair consistently ratchet up the tension as they play comedy chicken opposite one another.
The disparate sketches of Would It Kill You to Laugh? are loosely configured around a fictional John and Kate, touted as the greatest comedic duo on earth thanks to their hit sitcom He’s Gay, She’s Half-Jewish (which they claim is not a send up of Will and Grace, but sure feels like it). Their fictionalized selves reunite on Meredith Vieira’s talk show Point of Vieira after a contentious lawsuit and two decades of separation for a conversation filled with passive aggressive interactions and backhanded compliments.
Even when not related to this fantastically fleshed-out world (a girl cries to her parents about not getting to stay up for the reunion interview, a family crowds onto a sofa to watch it together), the scenes in Would It Kill You to Laugh? are linked by bizarre and entertaining motifs, like a massive tome called Clancy’s Reward or the use of hot caramel as money. The sketches are dressed up in supremely silly trappings—the pair are gormless beavers at an airport, or chasing after bubbles in a kids’ dance class—but that doesn’t mean they’re pointless. Often the jokes hinge on interpersonal competition, and these excruciating moments highlight the scarcity mentality underlying so many of our interactions, especially in a capitalist context. Even if Berlant and Early’s main aim is to make us laugh, their absurdism also shows how inherently ridiculous our own social mores are.
Between Rutherford Falls, Girls5Eva, Bust Down, Killing It, and now Would It Kill You to Laugh?, Peacock is showing its true colors as a haven for original comedy. Hopefully with the new streamer’s backing we’ll get to see more from Berlant and Early in the near future, as they’ve had TV plans fall through before (see Paste’s most recent interview with the pair). Not only are they funny, but their sense of humor feels necessary right now. At a time when reality consistently proves itself beyond parody, the no-holds-barred surrealism of Would It Kill You to Laugh? seems the only appropriate response. While they may not be as universally known as their fictional counterparts, Berlant and Early are an iconic comedic duo.
Would It Kill You to Laugh? is streaming on Peacock.
Clare Martin is a cemetery enthusiast and Paste’s assistant comedy editor. Go harass her on Twitter @theclaremartin.