Just last week we posted a list of innovators changing the game in comedy, and just a few days ago we posted the ten best comedy specials of 2016. There is one late-in-the-year comedy special missing from both those lists, and it isn’t even out yet, but it will be on December 29. Make it a point to watch it right away because everyone will be talking about it.
Laurie Kilmartin’s 45 Jokes About My Dead Dad, which will debut on Seeso this week, is extraordinary. It’s a standout for a number of reasons, and being funny is only one of them. This special is innovative. It goes completely off format. It’s twisted and dark. And it’s also deeply emotional.
Back in 2014, Kilmartin’s father was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. The news was devastating for Laurie and her family, and she made headlines when she live-tweeted his final weeks in hospice care, with some seriously dark jokes- the kind of jokes you might whisper to a sibling in a wickedly twisted moment, but never utter loud enough for someone else to hear for fear they’d think you were a creep. Like “For Valentine’s Day, I got my Dad a gift card from JC Penney. I said, “Dad, I want this card to expire before you do.” And, “I said, “Grandpa’s dying,” and my 7 yo son looked up at me with his big brown chocolate drop eyes and said, “what about his iPad?” Some tweets were sweet, some were heartbreaking and most were funny. Months later, she recorded a comedy special using that same raw emotion to find the funny in some dark times.
The brand new Seeso special splits the hour between a short 20-minute documentary that revisits that difficult period, and about 35 minutes of stand up that as promised, delivers about 45 jokes about Laurie’s dead dad. (No I didn’t count, but it seems about right, and I’m inclined to believe her). The doc intersperses Kilmartin sharing many of the darkest and funniest tweets with some interviews, photographs, video and commentary from Conan O’Brien (Kilmartin is an Emmy nominated writer for Conan) and Patton Oswalt. Conan talked about her tweets calling them “the essence of good comedy,” and said, “she’s being brutally honest about what’s happening to her father but also there’s a sweetness there. She’s clearly being moved by this event, and she’s staring at it wide eyed. And I thought it was really beautiful.”
The producers did an outstanding job of bringing those few weeks to life, in a way that is both laugh-out-loud funny and brutally candid, painful and likely to result in one of those cathartic cleansing cries that you get from great gut wrenching movies. It’s beautiful and it’s funny, and it’s sweet and it’s wicked and there are so many crushing-yet-funny moments as Kilmartin makes jokes about her dad’s condition, and takes some particularly funny shots at her mom. Through it all is this portrait of a real American family going through some heavy shit and just trying to deal with it the best they can. Kilmartin’s love for her family pours through the screen throughout despite her best efforts to never give her mom a ‘jk’ moment. If you’re like me, you’ll also feel like family, and inclined to take Kilmartin up on her offer to be consoled in her large bosom after the show.
The stand up was taped in October 2014, about 7 months after her father passed, at the Lyric Theatre in Los Angeles. The taping was intentionally short, originally envisioned to only cover somewhere between 15 and 25 minutes. She had promised fans “This is not a one-person show. I don’t do that. In my heart of hearts, I’m a nightclub comic. No tears. No message. Some dick jokes.”
It may have taken over two years to find the right provider to bring the special to small screens everywhere, but the end result is worth any wait. And that wait, while looking for the right home for the special seems to have inspired some very creative thinking to go off-format and create a special that really is special. The twenty minute mini-documentary that precedes the stand-up component is brilliantly produced, and it’s the most beautifully dark, funny, touching, heartbreaking, laugh through your tears piece of filmmaking you’ll see in comedy this year and likely for many years to come. So congratulations to Kilmartin first and foremost, but also to the producers and the folks at Seeso for recognizing a piece of great art. Seeso has already had a remarkable year in producing some of the best specials of 2016, but this is the one that will catapult the platform to the next level.
Laurie Kilmartin’s “45 Jokes About My Dead Dad” is absolutely must-see by anyone who has ever smirked, grinned or chuckled or laughed out loud at something awful and enjoyed how great it felt. A terrific reminder that in the right hands, anything can be funny.