‘Good One: A Show About Jokes’ Is One for the Comedy Nerds

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‘Good One: A Show About Jokes’ Is One for the Comedy Nerds

If you’re a comedy nerd interested in how the joke sausage is made, you’re probably already familiar with two popular podcasts. One is Working It Out, in which Mike Birbiglia and comedian friends explore their writing processes by taking a comic premise and riffing on new punchlines born of unexpected connections. Another is Good One: A Podcast About Jokes, where Vulture’s Jesse David Fox and famous comics take existing gags and painstakingly break down the process of creating them. So it makes a certain kind of sense that the two pods are essentially mashed together in the new “docu-special” Good One: A Show About Jokes, premiering tomorrow on Peacock.

Good One (the docu-special) isn’t a place to come for belly laughs, not necessarily anyway, but it does provide a fascinating peek behind the curtain of what it takes to produce a one-hour comedy show. It also provides an answer to a question you may never have considered: What happens to comedians after they kick ass with their new Netflix (or Amazon or HBO) special? The answer is they have to start all over again, completely from scratch. The path from Emmy Awards back to blank pieces of paper can be a frightening one. 

We find Birbiglia in the aftermath of his successful The Old Man and the Pool show, and it’s clear he has no idea what to do next. Sure, he has jokes, meticulously recorded on colorful index cards tacked up around his office, but what is the next show about exactly? “I don’t know,” Birbiglia confesses, “until I figure out what I’m obsessed with.”

Good One follows Birbiglia on that journey to personal obsession, from workshopping new jokes in comedy clubs (“throwing out material and seeing what sticks”) to a relentless process of rewriting and revising, killing hilarious darlings in an attempt to create a cohesive show. There’s plenty of peeling back the onion, as Birbiglia describes growing up with a father who insisted on privacy. “Don’t tell anyone your personal stories,” he’d lecture, a lesson that the comedian has spent his adult life disobeying with specials devoted to sleep disorders, cancer, and parenting struggles. 

Birbiglia believes the key to comedy is telling secrets but how many does he still have to tell? That requires uncovering truths he might not have revealed yet to himself. There’s also the question of which stories belong to him — are his wife’s pregnancy struggles fair game for the stage? “Being an autobiographical comedian, it’s not advisable,” Birbiglia says. “But also, it’s my favorite type of comedy.”

Comedians Seth Meyers, Hasan Minhaj, and Atsuko Okatsuka — all of whom have worked with Birbiglia in the past — join the conversation, commenting on the comedian’s exhaustive, exhausting process and revealing aspects of their own approaches to developing funny material. 

Good One is about how jokes come together to form stories, and how stories come together to create a cohesive show. Peacock’s comedy special/documentary deep-dive will have great appeal to a very specific audience — fans who not only enjoy jokes but who are curious about where they come from and the painstaking sacrifices necessary to bring them into the world. In other words, comedy nerds, this one’s for you. 

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