Dave Chappelle and John Mulaney are the two best active standup comedians. I realize Rock is still doing it; Jerry is still doing it. But we’re not overthinking it here. Chappelle and Mulaney are the two best active standup comedians.
They bookended the election as hosts of Saturday Night Live, with Mulaney hosting the episode on Halloween and Chappelle hosting the episode just hours after CNN had formally called the election for Joe Biden. I have watched each of these monologues three times now.
The first time you watch either, they’re great! It’s familiar; it’s comfort food at the end of a year that needed some. Most of the jokes land. A few don’t. But all-in-all, they’re still the two best guys doing the thing that they do.
But by the third time I watched both monologues, I noticed something that’s extremely small. Completely meaningless as a critique, to be clear, simply a thing that I noticed as a representation of how each of us felt this year and processed the world around us.
It was nearly impossible to cram everything in.
I’m sure that folks that talk about pop culture have stared at blank computer screens for hours. (And congrats to the motivated folks that created self-imposed deadlines and got substacks rolling. I have grown to love the format a lot and envy the discipline. Still hopeful that I will move forward with my own; still struggling with the motivation part.) I’m sure that people that have desk jobs have spent hours in bed paralyzed with anxiety when they otherwise wouldn’t have. Maybe they never knew what that even felt like before (I envy your normalcy). I’m sure that people with children have felt helpless and unsure how they can possibly be the one to lead and guide when they barely feel like taking care of themselves (my diet has gone from once being strictly vegetarian for several months of this very year to not eating at all to eating nothing but chicken wings and McDonalds—again—over the past two. Still, a net win for my waistline if we can get things back under control by the time the calendar flips.). And I’m sure that a lot of people had to make a lot of difficult decisions—about the best ways to continue making a living when the government never seemed to care, and how that worked with what made each individual feel safe in a world that hasn’t been.
Too often, we didn’t have time to celebrate personal accomplishment; however big or small (getting out of bed and putting on pants was a big deal—on a lot of days!). Because another tidal wave was behind it. And that made all of our mental health deteriorate.
It was all too much. And there’s nothing that I can add to that discourse; just that on the biggest cultural stage, the two best at their craft seemed to be overwhelmed by it all, too. So…I think that’s the most accurate depiction that you aren’t alone. Again—it was by the third viewing, looking at it a bit more critically—but it seemed difficult at times for either to maintain one stream of thought. There were just too many targets; too many things to say; too little time to express themselves.
As for me, I thought I had navigated the year pretty well. I’ve kind of been conditioned for catastrophe. But some things took me off of that course around the beginning of November. And all of that weight that had deeply affected so many around me got to me, too. I didn’t feel productive. There were times I couldn’t move. I have a couple of things that I wanted to write that have sat unattended for weeks. Eventually, it drifted into “just trying to crash land this thing into 2021.” I’d guess a lot of folks felt the same.
So…here’s to 2021. Yeah, January 1 is just another day (as my therapist assured me along the way). But there’s something hopeful about January 1; not just this year, but every year. But also, especially, this year.
[I just read this back and—it was hard to maintain one stream of thought. Even deliberately attempting brevity.]
Here were my top ten records of 2020, one of the best years in music that I can remember. No honorable mentions. Just 10 (well, 11) of my favorite albums that were released this year.
- Tyler Childers – Long Violent History
- Taylor Swift – folklore/evermore
- Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher
- Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters
- Waxahatchee – St. Cloud
- Run the Jewels – RTJ4
- Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit – Reunions
- Busta Rhymes – Extinction Level Event 2: The Wrath of God
- Bruce Springsteen – Letter to You
- Machine Gun Kelly – Tickets to My Downfall