Prove your humanity

Last week, Netflix added to its varied collection of stand-up comedy with Jack Whitehall’s I’m Only Joking, an hour-length special filmed in the pre-lockdown world of January 2020. The comedian, actor and writer delivers charmingly awkward anecdotes and insights into the human experience, fulfilling his recipe for comedic success:

“Tragedy plus time equals comedy”

Delivering on this mantra, Whitehall discusses all manner of minor tragedies. He reflects upon break-ups, bad names and bogus hotels, toeing the line between light and dark humour in a way that isn’t overly evocative. Whitehall’s comedy is self-deprecating and character-driven; his jokes contextualised by his persona as a very British paradox of indelicate poshness. While this particular show assumes that viewers are somewhat familiar with his work, Whitehall remains accessible and easy to watch. He is immediately and entirely believable as the bumbling ball of enthusiasm we’ve seen attending panel shows and hosting events.

I’m Only Joking is Whitehall’s second stand-up special on Netflix, following his well-received and rather more theatrical 2017 show, At Large. By comparison, I’m Only Joking is a little less high-concept, refraining from the use of slideshows and props to aide his story-telling technique. Regardless, Whitehall is possibly at his best when divulging details of his own adventures and misfortunes. His prim, proper and potty-mouthed “daddy”, the co-star of his Netflix documentary series Travels with my Father, continues to be a part of these outrageous tales. Their unique father-son dynamic ties the sets and series together, creating a kind of Whitehall collection that is exclusive to Netflix.

I’m Only Joking is not my favourite of Whitehall’s work, but showcases the same manic energy, exaggerated movement and panicked improvisation that characterises a lot of his comedy. In both content and presentation, Whitehall stays essentially true to the humour and style that has established his avid fan base.