Rob Delaney isn’t the first to self-release a stand-up comedy special. Jim Gaffigan, Aziz Ansari, Wendy Liebman, and, of course, Louis C.K. have all done it. Bill Burr recently released his through Netflix as well. But there’s a difference between a comedian who’s been headlining big venues or has decades under their belt doing this and someone who, while not exactly brand new (he’s been doing comedy for years, and his tale of building up a half-million-person following via Twitter has been told and retold at this point), also isn’t a household name who sells out theaters. Even though the lines are blurring a bit and the self-released special is becoming increasingly common, this could prove to be a big moment. If Delaney pulls off a financially successful special with this format (He called discussing money “crass” in a recent interview, but did admit the special cost him a relatively inexpensive $50,000 to make.), it’ll be a groundbreaking moment, if only because he’ll be the first person to do it who didn’t first find success through the old-media system of Comedy Central, DVDs and so on.
Also interesting is the fact that, for a lot of Delaney fans, this material is brand new. Sure, there are a couple bits that intrepid YouTubers will recognize (one about feeding fans egg-salad sandwiches after the show, another perhaps best described as “You’re doing a good job in the boob department.”), but most of this material is unaired. This is refreshing, if only because how many other funny people with several hundred thousand Twitter followers don’t have a bunch of poorly-shot-on-smartphones YouTube clips littering their digital landscape? Delaney, by contrast, mostly has clips like this one, where he’s acting goofy and posting it himself.
As for the new stuff, it will surprise no one who follows him to find out that, much like his Twitter account, Delaney’s first special is rife with sex. Tiny dildos, buttholes, fucking the audience, mouth sex, asymmetrical breasts, shitting in mouths, vaginas, penises, fingering on cruises, jerking off to poetry, the taste of pussy, jizz, jizzing in butts, jizzing on faces, soap as jizz, jizz jizz jizz, and a whole veritable library of outright, blush-inducing filth is present on Live at the Bowery Ballroom. If the pornographic omnipresence sounds a little overwhelming, that’s because it is, but worth it for the moments like in one bit where a (fictional) lady breaks Delaney’s jaw and he gives her flowers afterward anyway. After being numbed to jokes about doin’ it, delightful moments like these are laugh-out-loud hilarious.
Some of the sex bits are inventive, too, or serve as springboards for thoughtful material, like when he sarcastically/innocently talks about how much fun intercourse is (“You should do it,” he says in a silly, encouraging voice.), which then leads to a lengthy bit about when he found a lump on his testicles, which then leads to the part of the process of making sure he didn’t have cancer, which was masturbating alone while sweating profusely in a parking garage, which then leads to him and his wife having a baby together. Yeah, phew. Other times, they just lead to weird, mesmerizing moments like this one: “It’s not necessary for me to continue to do this in front of you, to keep on kneading it like this. I can do this and make you watch and it makes me happy,” he says while massaging his crotch for the better part of an entire half minute.
Although many of the tangential jokes on Live at the Bowery Ballroom are a far cry from the 140-character bursts Delaney tweets several times a day, many of them start out like tweets, spiraling into fully-formed, fleshed-out bits. And while sex is a mainstay, he touches on politics (“If you fuckin’ ruin millions of people for 300 years, you can let 11 of them go to college,” he says of affirmative action.), absurd arguments like oceans versus lakes (an exhausting, delightful bit), leveling the playing field (telling rich kids in first class that Santa is dead), neck tattoos and much more.
A few of Delaney’s jokes don’t hold up, spiraling into an uneasy quiet and Delaney’s big smile as he realizes the bit didn’t work. His contracting-Hepatitis-A joke, which ends in a shrug of scat humor, for instance. But those awkward parts are few and far between. Not everything on Live at the Bowery Ballroom kills, but most of it is at least good-to-great. And at its best, it’s a waterfall of words rolling off Delaney’s tongue like the sweat beads forming on his forehead. Other times, it’s just weird, but weird in a comfortable way. A suitably filthy, but warm-hearted way, like the special’s closer, where Delaney unveils “The Friendly Sanchez,” an antidote to the reprehensible sex-position jokes tossed about by clueless middle-schoolers. You think, “Did he really just end on that?” And yeah, of course he did.