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Dark Victory


The namesake of his special might blush, but Anthony Jeselnik has no fear in latest showcase.


By Michael Shashoua / Jester editor-in-chief


In “Caligula,” the epically titled new special from comedian Anthony Jeselnik, released January 15 on CD and DVD by Comedy Central, he presents a complete persona through short constructed jokes. That persona, as other critics have called it, and Jeselnik himself has said in interviews, is that of an “arrogant dick.”


That’s sort of it, but not exactly. Jeselnik’s material is as dark and “mean” as that of Daniel Tosh (see review, 3/6/11), but he doesn’t deliver it with the glee and sense of mischief that Tosh does. Jeselnik puts himself into the jokes rather than commenting on things observed about the world or other people. Jeselnik also goes for any subject matter that is a known hot button – like rape, disabilities, dead babies or suicide.


On first viewing the DVD version, I could imagine my wife reacting and saying “that’s mean” and “that’s not funny.” At first, I might have agreed. But going to dark topics, if done right, is always funny. Listening to the CD version of the special, you hear a bit of Jeselnik’s about a kid dying while playing hide and seek because he suffocated in an abandoned refrigerator. The punchline – delivered dry and straight as most of Jeselnik’s lines are: “at least he died a winner.” That example alone gives a good idea of Jeselnik’s sardonic delivery.


The DVD also includes Jeselnik’s career-making spots in three Comedy Central roasts – those of Donald Trump, Charlie Sheen and Roseanne Barr. In the Sheen roast, one highlight is a clever exchange Jeselnik has with Patrice O’Neal (shortly before O’Neal’s fatal stroke) in which you can see Jeselnik be equally sharp as O’Neal and a comic’s comic.


So, if you can get beyond first impressions with Jeselnik, you can appreciate the craft he puts into his material and his unique comedic vision. It’s the kind of performance that will make you curious how his writing will unfold and evolve over time. That process begins soon, actually, with his own series debuting on Comedy Central next month.














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