Larry Charles’ Dangerous World of Comedy is part travel show, part tragicomic anthropological dig.
DIRECTOR: Larry Charles
Former ‘Seinfeld’ writer Larry Charles seeks out comedy in the midst of trauma and war.
Over just four episodes, Charles—who wrote for Seinfeld and directed episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm and the movies Borat and Brüno—packs in quite a bit of content. He claims in the first episode that he’s “traveled through the comedy danger zone and lived to tell the tale,” and the series aims to figure out what makes people in certain parts of the world laugh, and how people get their senses of humor.
Dangerous World starts off in Iraq, where satire on TV used to be more common before ISIS. Charles speaks with Ahmed Albasheer, host of the popular Albasheer Show, Iraq’s Daily Show equivalent, about doing comedy that could potentially make him a target. When Charles asks where Albasheer’s sense of humor came from, he gets the first of many illuminating answers: Albasheer was kidnapped off the street in 2005 and used humor to avoid more rigorous torture by his captors.
From there, Charles visits standup scenes in Iraq and Liberia, and meets a comedian whose career took off because of Ebola. Charles is an affable guide, and his narrative musings have a Bourdain-esque rhythm. At times his interviews feel like they’re straight out of a Borat bit, like when he speaks with a former Liberian warlord named General Butt Naked—who has eaten people and murdered children—to see what makes him laugh. Asked if he and his child soldiers ever used humor, Butt Naked recalls a scene that he believes is funny but actually sounds terrifying.
It’s moments like these that give the series some edge, and with each episode running an hour, they need these moments to break up the more standard interviews. An episode devoted to veterans who channel their experiences through comedy includes American vets and former child soldiers-turned-entertainers, illustrating an overarching theme of the show: how trauma is turned into comedy in the bleakest places. Other segments are a little more curious: Charles interviews Brace Belden, formerly known on Twitter as PissPigGranddad, who in 2016 abandoned his life in the States to take up arms with the Kurdish militia in Syria and fight the Islamic State. Charles interviews him in what appears to be Arlington National Cemetery, and they’re chased out by a protestor questioning the validity of Belden’s experience, which is actually funnier than anything Belden says.
Charles also explores the rise of anti-comedy, but only as far as it influenced the rise of the alt-right. Purveyor of racist parodies Baked Alaska (real name Anthime Gionet) tries to recast the Charlottesville as just a gathering of likeminded people and not a white supremacist rally. Andrew “Weev” Auernheimer tries to reframe his hate speech and neo-Nazi affiliation. Charles pushes back against some of their rhetoric but mostly lets their content speak for itself, like when he tunes out Auernheimer’s anti-Semitic rant. In one shining moment, Gionet tells Charles that Borat inspired his comedy, an admission that Charles lets hang in the air. He never really turns the camera on himself to ask how characters like Borat contributed to shaping comedy and satire—or racist trolls.
There are other interesting bits: In one segment about women in Saudi Arabia, comedian and YouTuber Hatoon Kadi tells a story about critics addressing her appearance, only to be interrupted by a man explaining her experience to her. A segment on Nigerian comedy and its outlook on rape jokes and homosexuality is illuminating, too.
Dangerous World is sort of a companion piece to Netflix’s Comedians of the World, but with Seinfeld clips peppered in to drive certain points home. It is a lot to take in, and perhaps not the best for binging. There are definitely some emotional, hard-to-watch moments. But those moments are also the foundation of the show.
Need more ideas? Here are our Netflix guides for the best war movies, documentaries, anime, indie flicks, true crime, food shows, gangster movies, Westerns, and movies based on true stories streaming right now. There are also sad movies guaranteed to make you cry, weird movies to melt your brain, and standup specials when you really need to laugh. Or check out Flixable, a search engine for Netflix.