A quick turnaround for this ceremonial special, filmed in Hollywood during the first week of May as part of Netflix’s Is A Joke: The Festival, inducts four of the greatest comedians of all time into The Hall, which is short for Comedy Hall of Fame and is not The children in the hall. Which, considering KITH is releasing its own new documentary on another streaming platform at the same time, has already confused Google when you search for it online. But if you made it here, congratulations! You have searched wisely.
The essentials: If you’ve never heard of a stand-up comedy Hall of Famer, that’s because there really hasn’t been one. The closest you can get is the National Comedy Center, which opened in Jamestown, NY (the birthplace of Lucille Ball) in 2018 and already houses the archives of the late great George Carlin, memorabilia from across American comedy history, an all-star comedy -Appointment for an advisory board.
In addition to being an induction ceremony filmed for Netflix, The Hall is an actual redesigned grand piano at the National Comedy Center.
For the ceremony, Jon Stewart introduced Carlin, John Mulaney introduced Robin Williams, Chelsea Handler introduced Joan Rivers and Dave Chappelle introduced Richard Pryor. The special also includes an “In Memoriam” section in which Jeff Ross offered his praise for the recently deceased comedians Gilbert Gottfried, Louie Anderson, Norm Macdonald and Bob Saget. To kick off the ceremony, however, a few words and jokes from… Pete Davidson?
Don’t worry. Davidson got caught up in his stunt casting joke, describing himself as “the guy who made the comedy special special.” Davidson added, “Trust me, I think I’m an odd choice to induct 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 presentation of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor on PBS. Except since all four of the original initiates do too The hall were posthumous selections, we were not treated to their reactions from the box seats or acceptance speeches from them.
Memorable Jokes: Though living comedy stars introduce montages from the recruits, none of them steal the limelight while paying tribute. After all, the emphasis is on the honoree.
Nevertheless, the first clips shared by Netflix are from the tributes. Here’s Mulaney on Williams saying that people unfairly stigma great comedians as having to overcome great sadness, depression, or tragedy.
Then Mulaney introduced Handler, who reminded herself, and us all, that Rivers never stopped smashing doors on women in comedy.
Our opinion: The most surprising thing about this 70-minute special is how teasing it is. Perhaps this is intended to generate interest in visiting The Hall in person? Montages of the four winners take up only 26 of the 70 minutes.
Or maybe it’s just a tongue-in-cheek statement about today’s comedy.
Take Stewart, for example, toasting Carlin: “It’s even rarer for a comedian to have a moment in culture. If somehow times match talent and there is an alchemy that creates greatness.”
Or Mulaney about Williams: “There is no footage of Robin Williams calling there.”
Or more clearly, Chappelle, after calling Pryor “the greatest stand-up comedian of all time,” aka the one and only GOAT. “And to all you comedians out there complaining that you can’t say anything these days, I would suggest that maybe you don’t have anything to say,” Chappelle offered. “Because there is a very profound example of a person saying anything and everything they wanted to say out of context.”
So where are today’s comedians meeting right now? How many comedians do you see calling on Netflix? What does Chappelle’s statement mean in the context of his own fixation on the trans community?
Oddly enough, this Netflix special is reminding you to click over to HBO Max instead for a two-part documentary on Carlin (George Carlin’s American Dream), which premieres this weekend, as well as several of his HBO specials. HBO Max also has a recent doc on Williams, as well as one of two recent series inspired by the life and career of Rivers (Chop). Of course, Amazon Prime Video has the other in it The wonderful Mrs. Maisel, as well as many Carlin specials. Netflix has a Rivers and Pryor special to watch right now. Still, it’s an induction for comedy greatness, which the platform also slightly blames
Our appeal: Stream it. And yet it’s an induction for comedy greatness that also slightly indicts the platform it’s hosted on? Since Davidson even cracked, you can believe this special will air on the same platform it’s popular for is it cake?
Sean L. McCarthy edits the comedy beat for his own digital newspaper, The comic of the comic; before that for real newspapers. Based in NYC but travels everywhere for news: ice cream or news. He also tweets @thecomicscomic and podcasts half-hour episodes featuring comedians revealing origin stories: Comic’s comic presents last things first.