When I interviewed Eric Andre a few weeks ago, I wrote that his new Netflix special, Legalize Everything, was “surprising, hilarious, timely, and wild.” I still feel that way, but I want to break it down further as I am, at this point, pretty sure it’s going to wind up being one of 2020s best and most relevant comedy specials.
When Legalize Everything dropped it managed to do a thing that few comedy specials do now: breakthrough, trending on Twitter and driving conversation, specifically the Cops bit which was released ahead of the special. Besides Chappelle’s powerful special following the murder of George Floyd, what other comedy special has managed to do that since the last Chappelle special and Hannah Gadsby’s Nannette? The thing is, while these other specials slow down and more easily gain critical traction, with comics adding weight to their words, Legalize Everything never lets off the gas and rarely lowers from a comical scream while delivering its intended message.
If you haven’t seen the Cops bit, it’s a sharp comment on the systemic flaws or our system and the way we both police and glorify messed up law enforcement actions. Through Andre, that message comes through with incredible, throat-shredding/arm swinging verve while identifying Cops for what it is: a show that amounts to a highlight reel of people at their absolute worst moment fronted by a reggae classic for its soundtrack. Andre feasts on the absurdity of all of it. As I’m sure you are aware, Cops got canceled in response to this moment of unified pushback on police brutality, that occurring well after Andre had recorded his special. The show had been on for 33 seasons.
Beyond the Cops bit, there are plenty of moments that lean into the special’s title/mantra. Andre rejects religious indoctrination and bonkers, obsolete, and cruel prohibitions on consenting adults who want to make decisions about sex and drugs. He goes to great lengths to deliver a laugh out loud history lesson about the hypocrisy of John Calvin and the tie back to the Pilgrim’s influence on our repressive yet mainstream American culture of puritanism. Hyper-relevant considering how authority and old rules and icons are being questioned and rejected.
There are lighter topics covered in the special, as well, though they still shatter any rules of decorum that others might play by. From the opening where he freaks out passersby in New Orleans by smoking up and fucking a wall while dressed like a cop, to jokes about eating ass, and storytime about Amsterdan sexploits and missing the Tupac hologram due to a Xanax blackout, Andre does a little bit of everything. And he does it big. Something helped by the setting and an adoring, raucous audience.
Staged in a reclaimed warehouse (Republic Nola), the audience seems as though they’re on top of Andre and he’s tethered to them, feeding off of their energy as a result. Remember being a part of that kind of thing? God damn, right? At one point, Andre crawls into the crowd, at other points he’s high-fiving someone or urging someone else to parkour down from the balcony. I don’t want to give away two of the special’s best bits, but creative audience participation heavily factors in, providing both faux unscripted and legitimately unscripted moments that speak to the charm of Andre’s particular brand, which he has, in the past, defined as “controlled chaos.”
There’s no virtual substitute for this specific kind of comedy in the time of COVID and needed social distancing. Zoom shows are a chance to get some cash for comics, but they don’t compare. And while it’s low on the priority list, that loss still blows. Seeing comedy done in people’s faces and watching them, raw and reactive, challenged and invited to park inhibitions and fear while participating in a daring and fascinating experiment is a reliable source of surprising sights and big, irreplaceable laughs. No matter how smart and sophisticated our tastes, something is unlocked by dumb pranks and unchecked silliness.
It’s a reminder that our looming glut of that kind comedy mixed with Andre’s ultra-timely material doesn’t make me feel better about the world even while laughing my ass off, but it does allow this special to declare its relevance more clearly than most others that launch, delight, and float for an eternity in the quiet shadows of Netflix. This feels like something unique, smart, weird, funny, and above all else, durable. An unintentional comedy time capsule for this moment in comedy culture and the world that did not seek to be anything of the sort.
Yes, Legalize Everything is important, even if it does end with a shot of Andre’s bare ass. If it helps, we can just say that it was a clever metaphor.