Comedy Review: Shlesinger’s fast-paced special shines

Grade: A-

Iliza Shlesinger, the youngest (and first female) winner of NBC’s “Last Comic Standing” in 2008, premiered her third comedy special “Confirmed Kills” on Netflix on Sept. 23.

Striking a comedic chord with her first two sets, produced in 2013 and 2015, respectively, Shlesinger’s powerful enthusiasm and outrageous physical presence fill the entire theater in this equally excellent third offering — also a Netflix exclusive.

Recorded in Chicago at The Vic Theatre, the audience is bathed in a swath of deep blues and purples that tint the palette of the entire special. Shlesinger is backed by a simplistic stage, with a line of dimmed red lights and an elegant sapphire curtain.

Wearing all black, the comedienne took to the stage with an opening number that recalls her famous “party goblin” character from comedy-past. A mix of high-tempo one-liners and manic energy, the bit whips the audience into a frenzy over an extended series of quips ranging from body glitter and falling asleep on the couch to uncomfortable Uber rides and dumping her purse on the floor to search for an elusive piece of lip makeup.

Shlesinger is a master of transitions, jumping topics frequently but never in a jarring or obvious way. Her animated expressions and loud body language make for a stage presence that’s hard to ignore — and a special that is really better to view than to listen to. Unlike most of her fellow comedians, her stand-up is less about standing and more about crouching, slinking, stomping and traversing the stage in every possible way. There’s very little “standing” to be found, in fact.

That’s one of the most polarizing parts of a special like this. Shlesinger practices a sort of “body comedy” that verges on slapstick. While her content is still peppered with poignant and plucky commentary, the centerpiece of a Shlesinger special is in the visuals — and contrary to a more traditional set, that’s half the joke. Unfortunately, it’s a joke some members of the audience may not to be able to get in on.

Shlesinger’s special is, by nature, a controversial thing. She refuses to back away from the “touchy” subjects — gender plays a huge role in her work and not always in the way you’d expect. From the physicality of being a woman to the infeasibility of “becoming a mermaid” her observations do very little to support the status quo, presenting a humorously insightful viewpoint about the infantilization and “helplessness” of the “ideal” modern woman.

With such a dichotomy, there is inevitable disagreement that will arise about the quality of the program. In this case, it errs on the side of excellence. Iliza Shlesinger managed to deftly blend two vastly different types of comedy with finesse and polish — and for that, she deserves an “A” — if not a solid one.

You can see Shlesinger’s special, “Confirmed Kills” on Netflix.

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