Laughing Matters — Jake Johannsen, in 1989

Sometimes comedy illuminates hard truths with a pointed urgency that other means can’t quite achieve. Sometimes comedy is just funny. This series of posts is mostly about the former instances, but the latter is valuable, too.

As much as I’m always keen to share the comedic efforts that provide sharp commentary on the world, exposing the absurdities of the human condition as only punchlines can, I’m maybe most impressed by those stand-ups who effectively ply their craft with material unconnected to the news of the day and the outrage of the moment. There’s something classic about a routine crafted with sharp observations of the mundane and artfully precise language to describe those brainstorms. I appreciate a comedian who understands that properly using the word “fracas” is going to heighten the humor all by itself.

Much as I’m ready to celebrate edgy and transformative comics, I think there’s no one working in the field today who makes me laugh more heartily and more dependably than Jake Johannsen. And that’s been the case for a very, very long time now, since he started making his first late night national television appearances in the late nineteen-eighties. It’s no surprise to me that at least one of those, shot in 1989, still holds up now. Freed of topical references or anything else that locks it to a specific calendar year, he could take a stage today and deliver this same routine with only the slightest of changes. In the very best way, this is timeless comedy.

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