What does it take to make it on the stage? How much does someone have to give in order to be successful? What does it mean to give up everything for your dreams? Samir Wassan (Kumail Nanjiani) is about to discover what he has to give up to the audience to fulfill his dreams in The Twilight Zone. Waylon Jordan already discussed Nightmare At 30,000 Feet Yesterday, so today we are diving into the second episode to premiere The Comedian.
**Major spoilers ahead, proceed with caution if you haven’t watched the episode yet**
The Twilight Zone has been known through its many adaptations to have stories revolving around people getting what they want, only to regret it in the end.
The same happens to amateur comedian Samir Wassan, as he spends every night struggling to get his audiences to laugh with his politically charged jokes.
One night after bombing on the stage, he meets legendary comedian J.C. Wheeler (Tracy Morgan) who tells him he needs to put himself out there on the stage. That the audience doesn’t want what he thinks, but who he is.
J.C. Wheeler’s tone grows more ominous as he explains to Samir that he has to give himself to the audience, but once he does it is theirs.
The next night, Samir tries to tell jokes about the 2nd amendment but they land to a deadly silent room. He finally gives into J.C.’s advice and talks about his dog filling the room with laughter.
Once he is home he discovers not only is his dog gone, but that it never existed. Here we find The Twilight Zone twist the series is known for. Every time he mentions someone from his life the jokes kill, but that person ceases to exist. After accidentally causing his nephew to be erased, he tries to use this “power” for good. He erases a fellow comedian who is shown to have killed a mother and daughter in an alcohol-fueled hit and run, bringing them back to life. He then goes after bullies from his past, jerks in the audience, to people he feels justified in erasing from existence.
This power sadly doesn’t work on people he has not interacted with (Hitler jokes won’t work here) but he still finds enough people to erase without affecting his life too much. That is, until he makes a joke about his longtime partner’s boss.
Samir’s relationship with him is filled with paranoia because the boss gives off flirtatious vibes towards his girlfriend. The ripple effects of his jokes leads to her never becoming a lawyer and also erases a relationship-saving getaway that kept them both together.
After this Samir finds himself running out of people to talk about without affecting his own life. This becomes extremely difficult when he is put in direct competition with his friend for a spot on an SNL type show. Being tasked with giving the best performance, he gives up everyone including his best friend. In the middle of hi set he is confronted by his ex who exposes his journal where he kept names. Here he must choose to erase the love of his life or to give himself fully to the audience.
The moral of the episode is apparent from the beginning tackling not only the pursuit of fame and its cost, but how much these pursuits can affect those around them. The Twilight Zone has had countless episodes involving a character’s greed which leads to their own destruction.
When the trailer first dropped I thought it was going to be more like an updated version of the season 4 episode Printers Devil starring the incredible Burgess Meredith as Mr. Smith aka the Devil.
J.C. Wheeler almost looks like an updated Mr. Smith, trading in a crooked cigar for a big vape pen. While Wheeler sets up the path toward success/self-destruction for Samir, he isn’t as hands-on throughout the process as Mr. Smith was.
While both stories deal with the main character realizing and dealing with the real-life consequences of their actions, The Comedian separates itself greatly in dealing with what audiences want.
The whole idea behind people being erased is once you give a part of yourself to the audience, it’s theirs. There is no getting it back. Samir gives up important aspects of his life to the audience and isn’t able to get them back, which is what fame does to someone’s personal life.
Once it’s out there in tabloids, online, or entertainment news cycles it is no longer in their control. Same with something created by artists.
How many times have we heard that Star Wars The Last Jedi was not the direction the audience/fans saw it going? Recently someone told off Frank Oz on Twitter, the man who IS Yoda, saying he doesn’t know the motivations behind the character he brought to life?
Not only was Samir losing himself to the audience, but he lost his art along with his form.
Say what you will about his original joke in the episode, but it was his ideas, his feelings on stage.
What got the laughs though? He’s basically just saying “fuck that guy, right?” over and over again.
The audience is presented as a homogeneous entity that takes more than just pieces and people from his life, they take away his art and what makes him a unique performer.
The Comedian ends with Samir taking his journey to its emotionally charged but logical end by sacrificing himself before the love of his life.
Shortly after we see the return of J.C. Wheeler as he starts the cycle again with a new comedian. There is no big reveal or twist. Instead, the cycle continues as another comedienne is tempted to sacrifice it all for her dreams.
It’s a dark reflection on what we do as consumers of art and content, absorbing and making something someone else created our own. Hell, I just did it with this review inserting my take on the meaning and connections of the episode.
*BONUS* You do not need a subscription to watch this episode as CBS All Access put it YouTube for free. Double bonus, you can see the ventriloquist dummy from the original series in the changing room scenes, especially at 15:20 and 43:00.