Kate Berlant, a journey

Listen, Linda. I don’t mean to be one of those folk who claims to have discovered something first before anyone else…but I did discover Kate Berlant before anyone else. I have bolstered this claim by spending a mildly concerning time doing my research on her past in comedy and just wanted to preface this article by saying that it’s cute you think she’s “funny” in Sorry to Bother You, but me? Personally? I’ve been here since The Characters; since Kate Berlant Teaches; since mother effing Duck Butter. 

Okay. So. Since we got that out of the way. 

It’s 10PM. I’ve just seen an absolutely incredible lineup from GOLD Comedy Live. I’ve taken a shower, applied my face mask, and made myself a hot cup of decaf coffee. On my way upstairs, I’ve spilled some of the coffee onto my thigh – but no scalding beverage can burn away my excitement for Kate Berlant’s new comedy special, Cinnamon in the Wind, streaming on Hulu. Sitting on my bean bag, ice on my raw, blistering skin, I press play. 

All of your attention has to be on Kate Berlant whenever she is on the screen. I confess, when she was in the background of scenes in the new “League of Their Own,” I found it hard to follow the plot because I was paying attention to the absolute perfection of the Jewess in the back. And it pays to watch Berlant closely in the background because so much of her comedy comes from the tiniest facial twitch; a micro lowering of the eyelid, a lift of one corner of a lip. Genius. 

Cinnamon in the Wind is shot in black and white. It’s weird. It feels like watching a much older comedy. Her pacing and energy and even her look–to a certain extent–give off the feeling that the live audience is just a laugh track. (Despite her psychic crowd work. Which is…Did I already say genius?)

It’s like watching a person perform their neutral, normal, every-day-life-self and that it just happens to be hilarious. She moves like a cartoon at times, her act-outs often punctuated with a cross-eyed look that never fails to elicit a laugh from this fan. 

Those of you who have seen Berlant’s work before may recognize this character as her classic type. She does a constant bit of “you know what I mean?” and then moves on really quickly to a new topic when you, in fact, do not know what she means.

She’s, like, the most relatable non-relatable person in the world.

She’s like if my superego became a person.

But still, you can see the real person through her hyper confidence. When she mispronounces cornucopia, her voice freezes on a dime, the room goes silent. Her eyes widen to saucers. She hollers to take it from the top, to go again – because her whole persona is about perfection. She perfectly reacts to being imperfect.

Her humanity comes out through the cracks of this holier-than-thou persona, “I’m not really the girl next door, I’m…the door,” followed by a gorgeous sigh.

Kate is completely aware of every move her character would make and it comes to her as if she was an automation machine. If A, then B. But if C, then A. It’s really incredible to watch. 

I already think of this special as a pinnacle of her character. An amalgamation of everything she is in one this one, 45-minute special. She is so in on the bit that it feels like she could talk about absolutely any topic at any given moment. The audience (live and on my bed) has no idea what is coming next. There’s a looming question: how much of this was even planned?  You can see how much she rolls with the punches, so to speak, though she improvises so well it seems like perhaps she planned (??) to nearly trip over the microphone (??), or mispronounce the word cornucopia (??). I mean… to perform in front of a mirror…wow. Everything feels so thought out and yet so off the cuff. It’s bananas.

This character I keep bringing up works so well today especially because we all do so much to try and be special individuals. People want attention (a lot of it) and to do that, at least online, you have to be interesting and cool and hot and successful. Kate Berlant’s character of The Most (and only) Interesting and Unique Person in the World harnesses this aspiration and takes it to level ten.

There’s this feeling that she is afraid to stop speaking, that if she loses interest for even a moment it will all come crashing down. At the end, seemingly desperate for a reason to stay on stage, she performs as if she has been a scientist acting out the role of “Kate Berlant,” for years, running a social experiment. In ‘taking off the mask’ of this character, she in fact somehow leans even more into the character than ever before.

“My work is kind of endurance based, it’s about you enduring me,” is one of my favorite lines from this special. It’s a comedy special, sure, but it’s also an isolated look at a leg of social life that has never been so peeled back before.

Did I analyze the shit out of this special? Yeah. Yes, I did.

I hope that you can watch it and see for yourself the incredible genius she shares. But also, you can feel free just to watch and laugh till you cry. Either of these watch-strategies will change your life.


P.S. If you like this, may I also recommend Jamie Loftus’s “Boss Whom is Girl.” What a show. What a woman. What a performance.