In 2018, Vulture coined the phrase “post-comedy” to describe television shows and stand-up specials that use “the elements of comedy … without the goal of creating the traditional comedic result — laughter — instead focusing on tone, emotional impact, storytelling, and formal experimentation.” If that sentence made you feel depressed, an emotion I have dubbed “post-laughter,” you’re not alone.
It’s true that “post-comedy” could be applied to a lot of shows that I’ve loved in the past few years, including Atlanta, Barry, Bojack Horsemen, and Forever. But, generally speaking, I’ve found the post-comedy trend — which is now pervasive among the buzziest half-hour shows that air on cable and streaming platforms, along with the most hectoring, clapter-soliciting political comedies typically found in late night — to be increasingly frustrating and callow, like a cheat-code for garnering retweets, rave reviews and prestigious awards. Though I don’t think I realized precisely how unsatisfying it was until I saw I Think You Should Leave.
I Think You Should Leave is a sketch comedy series starring its co-creator, Saturday Night Live and Detroiters alum Tim Robinson, that first appeared on Netflix last month. It is the funniest show I’ve seen this year, or any year that I can remember this decade. I don’t mean “funny” in the clever, chin-stroke-y, laugh-inside-your-own-head, post-comedy sense. I Think You Should Leave makes me laugh physically harder, and with less conscious thought, than any sketch-comedy series I’ve seen since Chappelle’s Show. And, unlike most post-comedy shows, I Think You Should Leave makes me feel extremely happy, as I imagine inhaling a juicy cheeseburger after being force-fed kale for years would. It’s the opposite of post-comedy — it’s comedy-comedy.
As is often the case with TV shows that appear on Netflix, there’s a very good chance you haven’t heard of I Think You Should Leave yet. It hasn’t had the benefit of wall-to-wall promotion, or reams and reams of online recaps. However, depending on your cohort, it’s also possible that your social media feed has been overloaded with memes and quotes from I Think You Should Leave for weeks. I Think You Should Leave is the kind of show you either haven’t discovered yet or are totally obsessed with — there is no middle ground.
Have you seen a screenshot of a long-haired elderly man with the subtitle, “You have … no … good … car … ideas”? How about Tim Heidecker with a graying ponytail affecting a disapproving look over his fellow partygoers’ ignorance of the tuck-tuck sound? If you’re really lucky, you might have seen my favorite joke from I Think You Should Leave, from an in-memoriam segment for the Baby Of The Year pageant that simply reads: “Little Jeffy Jeremy — Throat Slashed.”
Among my friends and acquaintances, I Think You Should Leave is a small-scale phenomenon — our own organic version of Game Of Thrones. My text chains are now dominated by favorite quotes from the series. (“No coffin — just wet, wet mud.”) Slack channels have been overrun with memes. (“Stinky!”) At some point, this will become tiresome. For now, though, it’s heaven.
I can’t think of a recent TV show that has given me as much pleasure on such a relatively modest scale. The first season of I Think You Should Leave — I insist on at least 10 more seasons, Netflix — is only six episodes, which each installment clocking in at around 15 minutes. Who knew that 15 minutes was the exact right length for a sketch-comedy show? There is no time for bad sketches in 15 minutes. Every bit on I Think You Should Leave feels essential — all killer and no filler, with minimal topicality and maximum absurdity. There is a simple set-up — usually an embarrassing situation that escalates wildly out of control at work, during a focus group or magic show, or in the midst of a skeleton war — and then an unpredictable denouement. That’s it, that’s the show. It’s like your favorite punk band that only put out perfect EPs in lieu of flabby, uneven albums.
Part of what makes I Think You Should Leave so lovable is that it is an overdue star-making vehicle for the seemingly decent and affable Robinson, who’s been a “That Guy!” in comedy for years. A Detroit native who came up in the comedy farm system of Chicago improv, Robinson was a featured player on SNL for a half-second in 2012 before being shipped off to the writers’ room, where he worked with future I Think You Should Leave collaborators Zach Kanin and John Solomon. (The show is executive-produced by fellow SNL alums The Lonely Island.) Then, for two seasons, Robinson co-starred with co-creator Sam Richardson in the delightful Comedy Central sitcom Detroiters, which was canceled in 2018. (Kanin was a crucial behind-the-scenes player on that series as well).
In 2016, Robinson was featured in Netflix’s comedy anthology The Characters, in which a different comedian was given an episode with which to do basically whatever they wanted. Robinson’s episode feels like a dry run for I Think You Should Leave, with each sketch centered on a hapless character trapped in an embarrassing situation that he tries and fails to extract himself from, with increasingly desperate and catastrophic results. In the opening sketch from The Characters, Robinson plays Sammy Paradise, “ol’ two eyes himself,” a Sinatra manqué whose veneer of effortless cool curdles horribly once “Lady Luck” turns against him.
In a recent interview with Vulture, Robinson confessed that he still feels insecure about his acting, a possible after-effect of not making it as an on-screen presence on SNL. But the success of I Think You Should Leave hinges greatly on Robinson’s ability to both lose his cool in every situation while also being likable and vulnerable. Without the latter, the comedy would just be intolerably shrill and sophomoric. But Robinson’s inherent humanity grounds this otherwise hyperbolic and surreal show in some semblance of reality and empathy.
I Think You Should Leave is such a purely fun experience that analyzing it too deeply feels like missing the point. But after watching these six episodes several times now, I’m struck by how primal the show is. Like all great, laugh-out-loud comedy, I Think You Should Leave is funny because it points out aspects of human nature that we all know and recognize but don’t always realize that we recognize. It’s true that I Think You Should Leave isn’t consciously “important” in the way that so much post-comedy longs to be — there are no special episodes about racism, eating disorders, or the omnipresent specter of our current president. This, again, is not an overtly intellectual show — it speaks directly to your lizard brain, where your deepest fears and desires reside: Do people like me? Can they see who I really am? Will they find out what I just did in the bathroom? Can I find the baby who bothered me on an airplane 30 years ago and scream in his face for a change?
Yes, it’s a silly show. But I Think You Should Leave also addresses humanity in its most stripped-back and essential form. With so much so-called comedy now catering to the super-ego, it’s high time the id was serviced for a change.
I Think You Should Leave is currently streaming on Netflix.