"You gotta say something that matters, Che, like what's going on, man. I like that you did it in the right spot -- say it the way you want to say it, say it the way you feel. Don't hold back." So goes the intro to Michael Che Matters, the Saturday Night Live fixture's strong first stand-up special, available to stream on Netflix right now.
What follows: Che speaking his mind, making killer analogies, and working through personal shit -- all while commenting on society's more urgent problems. It's entertainment pushing to be more than entertainment for entertainment's sake. So, should you Netflix and Che? Is the whole 60-minute set worth sitting through? We'll help you decide.
How familiar are you with Che's stand-up?
A Rolling Stone Funniest Person and Variety Comic to Watch, Che has performed stand-up for more than half a dozen years. The 33-year-old Manhattanite has appeared on Just for Laughs (above), on David Letterman's show, at the Gotham Comedy Club, and at several other random venues throughout New York. If you've followed those appearances, you might recognize a couple of his old jokes.
What you can be surprised about is how polished Matters is, from the punches to the editing. Che's always been known for his laid-back delivery style, but about a third of the way through Matters, after he's warmed the audience up with an anecdote about a homeless person, he hits an especially entrancing stride, summoning the kind of swagger that'll make you wish his set ran more than an hour. He has total command over the crowd and, despite his casual-as-hell aura, possesses a control over his material that any Che fan, new or old, can appreciate.
How do you feel about Harambe?
Fair warning: Che hates Harambe. He hates Harambe so much, he won't even refer to the late gorilla by name. In fact, you'll encounter the word "Harambe" more times in this paragraph than you will in Che's entire special, because you could probably get Che to say "Voldemort" before he'd say "Harambe."
The good news: Che doesn't exploit this sensitive topic for cheap laughs. He explores Harambe -- and other relevant issues like racism, police brutality, Black Lives Matter, homophobia, Christianity, gentrification, and the creepiness of dildos -- to make a point. (You know, like, if you're going to pretend you care about dead animals you never interact with, you should also probably care about your fellow humans.) If you offend easily, buckle up: this is the kind of special that will laud Jesus for his miracles but mock him for his forgettable carpentry skills, because Che gets to his points using very calls-it-like-he-sees-it paths.
Sure, the occasional bit fizzles -- in particular, one about cat-calling feels a little forced and unproductive. But Che will more often gift you with the kind of simple but eye-opening analogy you'll want to stash in your back pocket for safekeeping (regarding the All Lives Matter argument, for example: if your wife asks, "Do you love me?" You don't respond: "Baby, I love everybody!").
Are you ready to joke about Trump?
"You're not gonna like this," Che warns, before unleashing a string of jokes about how shitty but funny Donald Trump is. This special was recorded before Hillary Clinton conceded the presidential race, so if you're not ready to joke or hear jokes about the fact that Trump is about to lead our country like a baby driving the family car off a mountain, that stuff pops up between the 35- and 39-minute marks.
The subject elicits a few boos from the Matters audience. That Che brings up Trump and then commits to the bit, however, illustrates the special's overarching message: it's important to be open about tough topics in order to grow. For Che, comedy is a way to process, a way to grapple with viewpoints in a public forum. ("We gotta stop accusing people just for being honest. That's a teaching moment. You can school me ... don't just call me something because I said some shit you didn't like," he says.) You also see this when he talks about homophobia, transgender slurs, and insensitivity to cat-calling -- all things people have called him out for in the past. For Che, it's clear comedy is cathartic.
Have you ever been to New York?
Those familiar with New York -- its history of crime, gentrification, and white women -- might find extra enjoyment in portions of Che's set. But the jokes aren't so insider-y that they're alienating. Just understand that by selecting Brooklyn's Greenpoint Terminal Warehouse as the special's setting, Che and director Oz Rodriguez chose a particular crowd. A few Gotham references are part of the deal.
How do you feel about comedians laughing at their own jokes?
Seriously. If this kind of thing gets on your nerves, you might take issue with the way Che carries himself. But if, like me, you get a kick out of seeing comedians cracking themselves up, it might be an added bonus. Remember the other week, when Che botched that Puerto Rican-Mexican "Weekend Update" joke? For me, that line flub was the highlight of the entire segment (watch above) -- especially the "don't cut to me!"
Breaks in the scripted material like these have a certain charm to them; they humanize the comic and break his illusion of celebrity. Though the setting and context are different in Matters, Che's onstage giggles, along with solid crowd work and improv near the end, work much the same way. He feels relatable, like a friend who's having fun while learning something vital about himself and his fellow man. Ultimately, it seems like he just wants you to do the same.
Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, and get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.