So far, “Lady Dynamite” is all over the map regarding ideologically driven humor.
The new Netflix comedy came out of the gate with an episode tarring gun rights advocates. By episode three, star and show creator Maria Bamford targeted white liberals stewing in their own alleged privilege.
“Lady Dynamite” is unlike any other comedy you’ve seen before. Truly. The show follows a fictional version of Bamford, a 40-something comedienne coming back after a mental health breakdown.
The show’s narrative finds her plugging along in California, trying to move past her recent woes. That hardly describes the approach to each 30-minute installment. There are flashbacks and other timeline hiccups. Actors jump in and out of characters, and fantasy-style sequences occasionally join the fray.
Comedian Patton Oswalt played a cop in the first episode. By the story’s end he was doing stand-up comedy, and Maria was referring to him by his real name.
It’s that kind of show. Expect the unexpected. Which is why one particular episode was so surprising.
Some episode spoilers ahead…
For the “White Trash” episode, Maria is cast in a new sitcom starring two black brothers as garbage men. Maria lunges at the gig initially. It’s a sitcom! It’s steady pay!
Then, on the set, she starts to wonder if it’s racially insensitive to be part of a show where the two main characters are black, lower class and hauling trash for a living. Isn’t that demeaning? Shouldn’t she be part of a more uplifting show that shatters stereotypes, not just reinforces them?
The white guilt comes in a flood. And she means really, really well every step of the way. So she uses her limited power to make some changes. Now, she’s a garbage person, and the black actors (real-life comics Kenny and Keith Lucas) play more sophisticated, powerful characters.
Only those characters aren’t funny any more. And the show’s black stars are upset they no longer have killer lines to say.
Maria never considered what they thought of the show, their roles or anything else. She simply felt guilt and acted on it.
Her black co-stars complain of feeling “minimized” by the change. The show was supposed to chronicle their path from garbage workers to stand-up comedians, they complain.
“We don’t want to represent anything. We’re comedians. We just wanna be funny,” Keith Lucas says in character.
Maria is dumbstruck.
Later, Maria tries to take a victory lap for the episode, breaking the fourth wall in the process.
“I think we said a lot of important things about race,” she says.
“Like what?” she’s asked.
“Well… uh… ” she stammers in response. So she calls on John Ridley, the screenwriter responsible for “12 Years a Slave,” who suddenly appears on set.
“I don’t think what you’re doing is malicious. It’s just recklessly ignorant,” says the screenwriter, who is black.
Maria’s social justice warrior moment is, well, trashed.
The episode teems with other cultural observations, most of which are well worth a look. Suffice to say it’s heartening to see a comedy feast on a ripe subject so few liberal outlets tackle.