A quick turnaround for this ceremonial special, filmed the first week of May in Hollywood as part of the Netflix Is A Joke: The Festival, inducts four of the greatest comedians ever into “The Hall,” which is short for Comedy Hall of Fame and not The Kids in The Hall. Which, considering KITH has its own new documentary releasing at the same time on a different streaming platform, already has confused Google should you be searching for it online. But if you made it here, congrats! You searched wisely.
The Gist: If you’ve never heard of a Stand-Up Comedy Hall of Fame, then that’s because there hasn’t been one, per se. The closest thing to one is the National Comedy Center, which opened in 2018 in Jamestown, NY (the birthplace of Lucille Ball), and which already houses the archives of the late great George Carlin, mementos from throughout the American history of comedy, and an all-star comedy lineup for an advisory board.
“The Hall” is not only an induction ceremony filmed for Netflix, but also an actual newly-designed wing in the National Comedy Center.
For the ceremony, Jon Stewart inducted Carlin, John Mulaney inducted Robin Williams, Chelsea Handler inducted Joan Rivers, and Dave Chappelle inducted Richard Pryor. The special also includes an “In Memoriam” segment wherein Jeff Ross offered his praise for recently deceased comedians Gilbert Gottfried, Louie Anderson, Norm Macdonald, and Bob Saget. To kick off the ceremony, though, a few words and jokes from…Pete Davidson?
Don’t worry. Davidson was in on the joke of his stunt casting, referring to himself as “the guy who took the special out of comedy special.” Davidson added: “Trust me, I think I’m a weird choice to intro a stand-up hall of fame, too.”
What Comedy Specials Will It Remind You Of?: The Hall feels most like the annual Kennedy Center Honors on CBS or the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor ceremony for PBS. Except since all four of the initial inductees to The Hall were posthumous selections, we weren’t treated to their reactions from the box seats or acceptance speeches from them.
Memorable Jokes: Even though living comedy stars introduce montages from the inductees, none of them steal the spotlight while paying tribute. Because the emphasis is on the honorees, after all.
Nonetheless, the first clips shared by Netflix come from the tributes. Here’s Mulaney on Williams, saying people unfairly tag great comedians with the stigma of having to overcome great sadness, depression or tragedy.
Then Mulaney introduced Handler, who reminded herself and all of us that Rivers never stopped busting down doors for women in comedy.
Our Take: The most surprising thing about this 70-minute special is how much of a tease it is. Perhaps that’s by design, to generate interest in visiting “The Hall” in person? Montages of the four honorees take up only 26 of the 70 minutes.
Or perhaps it’s just an ironic statement on comedy today.
Take Stewart, for example, toasting Carlin: “Even more rare is when a comedian has a moment in the culture. When the times somehow meet the talent and there’s an alchemy that creates greatness.”
Or Mulaney, on Williams: “There is no footage of Robin Williams phoning it in.”
Or even more starkly, Chappelle after calling Pryor “the greatest stand-up comedian that ever lived,” aka the one true GOAT. “And all you comedians out there who complain that you can’t say anything nowadays, I would suggest that perhaps, you have nothing to say,” Chappelle offered. “Because there’s a very profound example of a person who said anything and everything that he wanted to say outside of context.”
So where are today’s comedians who are meeting this moment? How many comedians do you see on Netflix phoning it in? What does Chappelle’s statement mean, in context of his own fixation on the trans community?
Oddly enough, this Netflix special will remind you to click over to HBO Max instead for a two-part docuseries on Carlin (George Carlin’s American Dream) that premieres this weekend, as well as several of his HBO specials. HBO Max also has a recent doc on Williams, plus one of the two current series inspired by the life and career of Rivers (Hacks). Amazon Prime Video, of course, has the other in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, as well as plenty of Carlin specials. Netflix does have one special each from Rivers and Pryor to watch right now. But still, it’s an induction for comedy greatness that also slightly indicts the platform
Our Call: STREAM IT. And yet, it’s an induction for comedy greatness that also slightly indicts the platform hosting it? As Davidson even cracked, can you believe this special is airing on the same platform that’s popular for Is It Cake?
Sean L. McCarthy works the comedy beat for his own digital newspaper, The Comic’s Comic; before that, for actual newspapers. Based in NYC but will travel anywhere for the scoop: Ice cream or news. He also tweets @thecomicscomic and podcasts half-hour episodes with comedians revealing origin stories: The Comic’s Comic Presents Last Things First.