No one loves to tell you that comedy is in trouble more than comedians. Conversations in that bubble of a world often center around the idea of “PC culture” and their free speech crusade for the right to be offensive on stage. On the flip side, there’s another type of comedy that has brewed up more recently in specials like Neal Brennan’s 3 Mics and Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette, in which comedians will spend long stretches of time without telling jokes, instead sharing insightful and honest ramblings about their own personal issues and life, perhaps touching on depression or sexuality. The debate over the state of comedy in 2018 is as weighty as the world happening around the medium—a world from which comedy doesn’t always feel like a respite these days. In a time that’s too insane to be parodied effectively, with mental health at the forefront of many people’s minds, even the funniest specials on either side of this partisan divide can be wearying. Rather than comedy to help us make sense of the world, maybe what we really need is something a little less serious—something, say, like a doofus with an acoustic guitar, singing a silly song about 69ing with an alien, in duet with Rob Schneider. Maybe what we need is Adam Sandler.
Netflix debuted Sandler’s new special 100% Fresh over the weekend, a title that cheekily refers to the less-than-perfect Rotten Tomatoes scores for his various films. He brings back his knack for making up goofy songs, honed during his time as a Saturday Night Live cast member on “Weekend Update” appearances that sometimes almost seemed made up on the spot, and brought to a peak on his ridiculously popular 1996 album What the Hell Happened to Me? The new special takes clips from throughout his recent comedy tour across the country and meshes them together in a free-flowing way, throwing in a few cartoonish voices and irreverent bits about the mundanity of adulthood in with the acoustic numbers. He sings about getting in meaningless fights with his wife, having to go to his kid’s school play, riding with smelly Uber drivers, and attending Bar Mitzvahs.
Sandler’s comedy has always been goofy and childish, and your patience for him is dependent on how much immaturity you can personally tolerate. He has no vanity in his work, and is charming in the manner of a troublesome little boy next door. While detractors might roll their eyes, with so much heaviness in the news and in pop culture, there’s something endearing about Hollywood’s biggest man-child treating audiences to a separate reality of light-hearted and low-stakes comedy.
Sandler is a divisive character in comedy, with equally passionate defenders and critics. At his best—evoking a surprisingly poignant sweet-natured idiocy, or cruising on his considerable charisma, peppering his conversational patter with Looney Tunes-style voices—he will bring you laughing into his absurd world, whether or not you think of yourself as the kind of person who enjoys his comedy. Personally, my idea of a perfect comedy is The Simpsons, a show with jokes that are full of technique, elaborate constructions, and well-considered references. But sometimes you just gotta play the hits and do “the rake bit” because it’s funny and everyone loves it. Sandler is the perfect vehicle for this sort of humor.
But it’s not all silliness. 100% Fresh gets serious and sweet near the end, as Sandler performs a song dedicated to his friend Chris Farley, which might have you spending the rest of the night looking up clips of the late comedy legend on YouTube. He ends things with a treat for the audience, dedicated to his wife, that might also make you tear up—especially if you’re a Wedding Singer defender. I can’t say with any confidence that 100% Fresh will make you want to check back in on later-period Sandler comedies. But for the first time in awhile, you’ll be grateful that he’s still around.