"Middleditch and Schwartz": Our Quarantine Saviors
In this time of uncertainty and anxiety, we often try to turn to comedy in an attempt to relieve ourselves from the pressure of the current state of affairs. That being said, it doesn't always work. The stand-up special doesn't click right away, the performers aren't at their best, maybe the movie you like to watch isn't hitting like it usually does. Times are different now, so we need different content. Enter Middleditch and Schwartz.
Thomas Middleditch, probably most recognized from the hit HBO comedy series Silicon Valley, and Ben Schwartz, a comedic actor seemingly popping up in everything nowadays but is most famous for playing Jean Ralphio on Parks and Recreation, make up this wild improv comedy duo. They run out onto stage with only one intention: everything except the initial question to the random audience member will be improvised on the spot by the two of them. They will proceed to enact one long form improv comedy special and, to the best of their abilities, try to recall all the inane things the other person brings up. They absolutely nail it.
As I wrapped up watching the three specials that make up this little series, I found myself being a little annoyed that we don't currently have anything like this, in the mainstream entertainment fields at least. Personally, not since Whose Line is it Anyway had improvisational comedy been a part of my entertainment viewing and I find that deeply saddening. As these specials will show, there is definitely room in the comedy landscape. I find it interesting that in popular culture, improv often gets the brunt of all the jokes, as if doing improv is something to be ashamed about. This is particularly strange due to the fact that many successful comedians and performers got their starts doing silly improv in tiny clubs. I understand that when improv is bad, it can be truly hard to watch. But isn't it with any profession that this is somewhat the case? Regardless, Middleditch and Schwartz are premier examples of why it does work.
On a technical level, this improv might not be considered the best. Due to the silliness of the plots these two men dream up and the ever revolving cast of characters, they are frequently breaking character. They often laugh at each other's jokes and they seem to absolutely thrive on it. While that might not be the desired effect in improv, it feeds these two and it makes for an even funnier show. The two of them have a masterful grasp on their show, even when it might appear at times that they have lost the reins entirely.
The magic of the show comes from the chemistry of the performers, as with all successful improv. You can easily tell that these two are friends, have worked together in the past, and are both incredibly committed to this ridiculous performance. When it comes to current working comedians, prior to watching this special, I was of two minds regarding these two performers. On one side, I have always loved Ben Schwartz and his manic energy. He has consistently operated on comedic level that just sung in my eyes. Thomas Middleditch, on the other hand, I had the opposite opinion. His comedy style never fully resonated with me and he was largely the biggest reason why I drug my feet a week or two before watching this. I could not have been more wrong. They absolutely sing on stage together and are goofy masters of their craft.
Each of the three shows are just under an hour long and they breeze by. I experienced some of the longest and most consistent laughing bouts during periods of watching this as just about anything in the past 10 years of entertainment. The first and third special take place over a period of time, with a cast of characters operating in different locations. These were obviously entirely manufactured on the spot after getting a prompt from an audience member and they are brilliant. My personal favorite special was the second however. This special finds them in a college classroom and it involves, to borrow from the special, a Breakfast Club-type group of people. The twists and turns of this particular special are mind-bending and hilarious. Pay special mind to all the details the audience members throw out as they describe their story. The two of the them are masters at taking tiny details and manufacturing them into something truly hilarious.
If you are looking for a short respite from the stressors of our current world environment, I would suggest that you take a couple hours and look no further than Middleditch and Schwartz. While the format might seem silly or uncomfortable for those unfamiliar, it does not take long before you are hooked into their stories.
Middleditch and Schwartz is currently streaming on Netflix and is for mature audiences only.