Stream It Or Skip It?

The idiom “soup to nuts” goes back to a 1930 film featuring the debut of The Three Stooges (and written by the inventor/cartoonist Rube Goldberg) whose movie poster boasted “a seven-course meal” of laughs. Taking it for the title of his first solo special on Netflix, is Mark Normand suggesting he’s going to deliver us a full-course menu of comedy, or that he’s the new generation of Stooge? Either way, is that a bad thing?

The Gist: Mark Normand has had multiple big-time stand-up comedians in his corner over the years, helping him to push to greater heights himself.

Normand was Amy Schumer’s opening act on tour when she presented his debut solo hour on Comedy Central in 2017. During a Mets broadcast in 2019, Jerry Seinfeld shouted out Normand as someone he enjoyed “who has not broken yet” but said to “keep an eye out for him.” Joe Rogan has booked Normand on his hugely successful podcast 11 times since 2019. And yet, when Normand filmed his second special, he self-released it to his YouTube channel — Out To Lunch has attracted more than 12 million views since May 2020. Netflix took note, putting him on the lineup for season three of The Standups, the streamer’s half-hour stand-up showcase series.

This is Normand’s third “hour” special, and first for Netflix, and opens in media res, with Normand propping one foot up on the stool, responding to what sounds like requests from the audience to riff on Italians, Jeffrey Epstein, and then the size of his own penis. “This is getting off the rails here,” are the first words we hear from Normand. But he’s just getting started.

What Comedy Specials Will It Remind You Of?: When he first popped up on Netflix’s The Standups, I described Normand as a “Millennial NSFW version of Jerry Seinfeld,” but clearly, Normand’s propensity for pushing the envelope of propriety makes him much more like Seinfeld’s cringe-seeking comedy missile of a collaborator, Larry David.

Mark Normand: Soup to Nuts
Photo: Rotten Tomatoes

Memorable Jokes: While plenty of comedians with Netflix specials make a point of tossing in a Netflix joke or two, Normand decides to aim a zinger instead at HBO, mocking the streaming platform now known as Max for thinking it’s progressive by offering separate collections for different racial, ethnic or sexual identities, when porn has been doing that for decades.

He jokes he doesn’t understand homophobes, because “every guy in here is super gay for their dick,” and believes a better solution for public restrooms is not dividing them by gender, but by “pisser or shitter.” He later finds a way to suggest that sluts had it easier in the times of the Aztecs, Incas and Mayans, and then somehow compares contemporary prostitution to bowling.

That’s a lot easier for him to defend, perhaps, than trying to explain the popularity of the Peloton to an immigrant.

In perhaps his shrewdest move (because I refuse to believe this was coincidental), Normand also has a ready-made defense of Barbie dolls timed to the release of the blockbuster movie, without ever trying to joke about the movie itself. His support for Barbie dolls goes, in part: “I mean, of course Barbie’s unrealistic. That’s why kids like her. Nobody wants a realistic toy. Like every man toy. Twelve-pack. Huge arms. Giant legs. They’re toys. ‘But she’s gonna think she has to look like her.’ No she’s not. I’ve never heard of a girl with a Barbie like, Damn, I guess I gotta cut off my nipples. Girls aren’t stupid.” Although he definitely didn’t see a Barbie trailer or do his Mattel research before taping this, because Normand also claimed that the Ken doll has never changed in all these years. Still, this part of his joke works effectively enough: “There’s no bald Ken, drunk Ken, abusive Ken. Nobody wants a realistic Ken.”

Our Take: One of his long-running gags is to call himself Kevin Hart, and here, he even gets the host in on the act by introducing him to the stage at the Vic Theatre in Chicago as Hart. The special is shot in such as a way to suggest that Normand was running late for the gig, forcing him to actually run from the L train to the stage just in time for said introduction

In truth, of course, much of Normand’s act is fully thought-out and calculated, with most of those thoughts attempting to calculate why we encourage or enforce different standards of behavior, and wanting to point out the hypocrisy of those differences. And he’s proudly and steadfastly an equal-opportunity offender.

“I like dark humor. Some people get upset,” he says at one point. “If we’re a society that’s upset about jokes, that’s a sign we got it pretty goddamn good, you know.”

There’s at least one moment wherein he gets sincerely dark, in a way quite comparable to Jim Gaffigan’s new special also out this week, when Normand observes: “We do have an opioid crisis, and nobody seems to give a shit.”

And there’s some revisiting of premises from past hours. A more cynical take would claim he’s merely rehashing old jokes for a newer, larger potential audience, while a more compassionate take would lean into his “soup to nuts” title to offer Normand may just be running the gamut to mine every premise for as much comedy gold as he can find and deliver.

Our Call: For the comedy fans who have been keeping an eye and ears on Normand this past few years, there’s a chance they might actually be underwhelmed by this set. For everyone else, though, I’d suggest you STREAM IT just for the zingers-per-minute rat-a-tat nature of Normand’s comedy. Some of it might not be your taste, but sometimes when you’re treated to a full-course menu, not everything will be to your liking.

Sean L. McCarthy works the comedy beat. He also podcasts half-hour episodes with comedians revealing origin stories: The Comic’s Comic Presents Last Things First.

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