‘I Think You Should Leave’ Is The Smartest, Stupidest Comedy This Decade

You have no. Good. Car. Ideas.

I Think You Should Leave

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Over the last few years — ever since the election of Donald Trump, basically — comedians have begun to mistake applause lines for comedy.

With ever-increasing frequency, comics are performing complex TED talk routines instead of stand-up sets. You don’t go to laugh — you go to have your view of the world repeated back to you, slowly, with enough time for you to pat yourself on the back whenever you hear something you particularly agree with.

The same goes for TV. Shows have to be about something. A series like the cancelled Tuca and Bertie doesn’t have jokes, per se, as much as it has a series of instructional messages — as though we’re all a gaggle of schoolchildren waiting for a parade of funky teachers to tell us how to behave. The ’90s PSA isn’t dead. It just calls itself comedy now.

That art has its place, of course. We live in dark, sad times, and the reinforcement of tribal lines gives us something to hold onto. We want to know that there are people out there who still believe in decency, and who share our way of being decent.

But art shouldn’t be judged by the social messages that it contains. If that was the case, then all great TV would be a laundry list of ethical traits read straight down the barrel of a camera. That’s not art. That’s moral education.

And who says that art can actually make the world a better place anyway? After all, if you’re in your early twenties and require need a pair of animated cartoon birds to teach you how to be nice, you probably have the kind of problems that an animated Netflix show can’t solve.

That’s where I Think You Should Leave, the funniest show of the decade by far, comes in. It’s not just that I Think You Should Leave doesn’t contain any Important Ethical Lessons. It’s that, by its very nature, the show rejects the idea that’s what comedy should even be about.

Smartly Dumb

I Think You Should Leave, the brainchild of Detroiters star Tim Robinson, is a series of sketches that flaunt their idiocy. In the show’s opening scene, a man insists that a door needs to be pulled instead of pushed. When the door disagrees, he stands there grimly straining against the thing, making unbroken eye contact with a future employer while the veins pop out in his forehead and the door begins to splinter and break.

The joke doesn’t work because you know anything about the man in question. The joke doesn’t work because you recognise things about him in yourself. The joke doesn’t work because it props up a vision of a world where everyone is good, and moral, and kindhearted.

The joke works because it is a very stupid person doing something very stupid, for a stupidly long period of time.

This is the genius of every I Think You Should Leave sketch, and it’s the kind of genius that is both: A) very dumb, and B) very hard to explicate. You get it or you don’t.

You can’t expound the reasons you find it funny to see a man in a hot dog costume pretend that he hasn’t just driven a hot dog-shaped car through the front of a clothing store. It just is. There aren’t layers to a joke like that. You can’t write a thinkpiece about its impact on the world, or global politics.

It’s just dumb shit, carried out by some very smart people: a fart joke rendered with all the care of an 18th-century landscape.

You Have No. Good. Car. Ideas.

That minimalism also applies to the characters themselves. You’re not meant to recognise anything in the rag-tag protagonists of I Think You Should Leave sketches, let alone understand them. The stars of the show are flagrantly incomprehensible; even aggressively so.

Think the cruel Italian man who spends a market research meeting peddling sheer lunacy, or the woman who thinks that the best place to hold an intervention is in her Garfield-inspired home. These aren’t relatable heroes — they’re weirdos, strangers who inhabit a completely different planet to the rest of us.

Even when the show flirts with observational humour, it always ends up ultimately rejecting it. We’ve all felt that someone else is hogging the best bits of a share plate, but very few of us have ever decided to raise that issue with a waiter. We’ve all wanted to impress a stranger, but that doesn’t mean that we’ve pretended not to be choking to death in order to do so.

The joke in all these sketches is the same: what if people in a world that looks like ours acted like no human being has ever acted? What then?

“I Don’t Think The Dog That Bit Me Should Get Put Down”

There’s no I Think You Should Leave sketch that I don’t love with all my heart, but my favourite is the opening of the fourth episode, “Oh Crap, A Bunch More Bad Stuff Just Happened.” In it, a man takes to the stage at a fancy pants arts dinner and makes a few genteel jokes. Everybody claps and laughs. Then the mood changes.

“First, I do want to say, just for anyone who’s concerned, I don’t think the dog that bit me should get put down,” the man says. The audience stiffens. But the man doesn’t stop. He keeps talking about this dog and this bite, recounting with a completely straight face the “protocol” of dog-related injuries.

The sketch is already funny. The man’s going very deep about a matter that the audience appear to be totally befuddled by; we’re watching someone untether themselves from the world, and break every social convention imaginable.

But then the sketch flips. We learn that there is indeed a dog in the audience, and that its owner is convinced that no biting has occurred.

“He didn’t try to bite you,” the owner says. “He was trying to hump your head.”

So now it’s flipped again. And it’ll flip again three or four more times before the sketch is over, eventually devolving into an argument about an incident we eventually learn happened just before the sketch even started.

Slowly but surely, the show has looped around on itself and completely undermined that first joke. Once, we were laughing because a man appeared to be going totally off the rails. Now, we’re laughing because we know that he was actually trying to keep himself together in the aftermath of having a dog hump the back of his head.

This is the genius of I Think You Should Leave. The goal posts of the sketches are constantly changing — the jokes are running about the place, bouncing off the furniture, refusing to be tamed.

Most humour these days moves in the opposite direction. Character and story are never sacrificed for jokes: the laughs, weak as they are, rise slowly off situations that have designed to be as relatable — and, even worse, socially responsible — as possible.

That’s not the goal of I Think You Should Leave. The show is a constant exercise in finding the strangest possible set-up and going for it. Who cares if that means the real world is left behind? Who cares if characters are self-negating, or strange, or haphazard? In the world of I Think You Should Leave, all that matters is the jokes.

That shouldn’t be radical for a comedy. But these days it is.

Joseph Earp is a staff writer at Junkee who tweets @Joseph_O_Earp.