The stand-up comedian, whose self-titled Joe Mande’s Award-Winning Comedy Special is now streaming on Netflix, is of course talking about former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. Once the governor of Arkansas, the ex-politician has become something of an oddity for fans and detractors alike with his particular brand of humor on Twitter. As a result, Huckabee has become a target for late night talk shows, professional comedians and magazine profiles attempting to discern what he thinks is funny. And Mande loves and despises all of it.
When I confess I sometimes share the governor’s latest tweets with friends in an attempt to decipher their hidden meaning, however, Mande explodes with laughter. “We do the exact same thing at The Good Place. We will pull up his fucking tweets and line by line try to figure what he thinks he’s trying to say,” he says. “It’s a waste of time for you, but it’s also a waste of time for NBC Universal, who’s paying us to try to figure out Mike Huckabee’s tweets.”
Awful sausage jokes notwithstanding, Mande and I are supposed to be discussing his new comedy special, and Huckabee’s Twitter stand-up is surprisingly relevant. That’s because Mande, who once half-joked that “we’re living in the darkest timeline,” isn’t afraid to discuss politics online or on stage. And sure enough, a famous anecdote about his and fellow comic Noah Garfinkel’s stoned participation in the audience for a taping of Huckabee on Fox News makes its way into the mix.
“A majority of the material is from after 2014,” says Mande, who released a mixtape comedy album titled Bitchface that year. “The Huckabee story was a thing that I took out of the album because I thought I might want to save it for a special.” Sure enough, the politico’s failed attempt to clinch the Republican nomination in 2016, support for the controversial clerk Kim Davis and eventual Trump affiliation offered Mande just the spotlight he needed to include his bit about getting stoned and watching the former Fox News personality do his thing. “He’s Trump’s court jester now,” Mande quips. “He’s a fucking convenient tool.”
Even so, contemporary American politics aren’t the true core of Joe Mande’s Award Winning Comedy Special. That honor instead belongs to Mande himself, whose penchant for self-deprecation shines throughout the highly meta comedy special designed to take the piss out of its titular star and the wider world of stand-up comedy. Hence why the hour-long program skips the walk-onto-the-stage montage that typifies most specials and instead begins with what looks like a documentary film. Old, grainy footage of a much younger Mande doing stand-up at smaller venues is spliced together while the comic declares, “I take comedy very seriously. It’s my life. I eat, breathe, shit and fuck comedy.”
It’s all one big joke, of course. The American Humour Award, the so-called “most prestigious award in comedy,” doesn’t actually exist. (The Mark Twain Prize for American Humor and the American Comedy Awards are its closest real-life counterparts.) Yet the Joe Mande depicted jogging through Los Angeles while listening to his own stand-up really wants to win it, and to accomplish this, he sets out to record his first special. Throw in cameo appearances by Bo Burnham, Blake Griffin, Chelsea Peretti, Kristen Schaal and many others, and bam — you’ve got a comedy special about a comedy special trying to win a comedy award. All of which sounds like a lot to cram into a stand-up hour, but it’s precisely what Mande set out to do.
“I knew I wanted to do something kind of high-concept after doing a traditional half-hour special and several late night appearances,” recalls Mande. “The way I even do stand-up, it’s sort of long-form and it’s hard to contain within a five-minute chunk of time. So I wanted to do something different for the hour. Originally, my plan was to try to shoot a special like a Michael Bay movie. That was my first idea. It would start with a car chase, then I would have to kill this dude. I’d have someone yelling at me in an ear piece, telling me my target is up ahead, and I’d be trying to find this dude and assassinate him like Jason Bourne or some shit.”