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John Wilson, Eric Andre, Sacha Baron Cohen and Nathan Fielder are behind a "quiet revolution" on comedy involving unscripted encounters

  • "Wilson, who writes, stars and narrates this self-portrait of sorts, is the quietly radical auteur of a rapidly ascendant branch of comedy that uses the raw materials of unscripted slices of the real world to make jokes," says Jason Zinoman of How To with John Wilson. "The latest Dave Chappelle controversy or topical Saturday Night Live sketch get more headlines, but in a less heralded corner of comedy, a quiet revolution is taking place. The best gross-out comedy of the year was Eric André’s Bad Trip, a movie that blended public interactions between actors and real people into its fiction. The most biting political film in recent memory was not made by Oliver Stone or Adam McKay. It was the 2020 sequel to Borat. And the most innovative portrait of New York was not cooked up by Martin Scorsese. It was the HBO series How To with John Wilson. I’m not sure if this group of documentary comedy artists, who have elevated a legacy still connected to lowbrow prank humor, can be considered a scene, but they are cross-pollinating and growing in ambition." Zinoman adds: "Nathan Fielder, who has also worked with Baron Cohen, pioneered a more personal, emotionally tender strain in Nathan for You (which ended in 2017) playing a mild-mannered consultant who helps small-business owners achieve their dreams. His cringe comedy often began as a spoof of the hustle of American entrepreneurs, but invariably spun off into melancholy, oddly poetic moments. This set the stage for the most ambitious and cerebral example of the genre, How To with John Wilson, whose executive producers include Fielder. Wilson builds every episode around teaching some new skill before getting interrupted by a diversion that seems to stumble into a philosophical meditation on a broader theme. An episode on appreciating wine asks how to engage with society without becoming conformist; one about finding a parking spot is a brief for the virtue of boredom. ('Maybe life is just circling just waiting for a spot.') It’s a show that gathers loose parts (a montage of shots of personalized license plates, say) and somehow turns them into wildly eccentric, oddly poignant comedy."

    TOPICS: How To with John Wilson, HBO, Eric Andre, John Wilson, Nathan Fielder, Sacha Baron Cohen