the berwick effect

Ashley Ray tweeted recently, “explain Andy Milonakis to gen z, u can’t,” and I’ll tell you, in the event that you’re uninitiated, that Andy Milonakis is a man in his 40s who appears to be about 14 years old. He suffers, as Wikipedia so conveniently puts it, from a “hormone deficiency” that keeps him looking like a kid. Between 2005 and 2007 he starred in a sketch comedy show on MTV, The Andy Milonakis Show, which, at the time that I watched it, was probably the most radically hilarious show I’d ever seen. 

Here are some clips, to give you an idea. 

Strange comedic shit: an older sensibility, coming from the mouth of someone who appeared to be a teenager. 

It was great.

Milonakis responded to Ray’s tweet saying “Easily digestible, explainable comedy is often times the most generic. To me, ‘What the fuck?’ is even more valuable than a response of laughter.”

Beautifully put. I agree.

And there are of course a number of comedians out there at the moment who embody that “what the fuck”ness, the sort that resonates more vividly with its audience by merit of being so niche, but the one who’s rang my bell most ringingly in the past few months has been Ricky Berwick, a Canadian YouTuber. 

Berwick’s comedy often makes a joke of his ailment, Beals-Hecht Syndrome, so there’s a chance you’ll feel bad about laughing–a taboo that works to make his work more resonant, by way of creating conflict within the viewer, i.e., “I shouldn’t be laughing at this and, now that I’ve told myself I shouldn’t laugh, I can’t stop”–and I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t refrained from retweeting some of his content because I knew it would offend (“Alright, Kirby: time to suck my dick!”). 

But Berwick is prolific on Twitter, where he’s constantly uploading three- to thirty-second videos, engaging with followers, retweeting shit and commenting on it–and I think he’s just about reached a point where his body of work is something worthy of serious consideration. 

I’m in the minority in thinking so. 

One of the hazards to thinking or talking seriously and at length about a comedian, especially an irreverent one, is that there’s a joke to be made (in keeping with the brand of irreverent comedy) by responding to a long thoughtful consideration with a single word. To render dismissive what somebody else thought intriguing.

I’m setting myself up here.

Still: Berwick is so prolific, and his creative voice honed to such a point, that even though he is, without doubt, a comedian, I get a vibe from his Twitter feed that he no longer creates content asking himself, as everybody does at the outset of their comedy career, “Is this funny?” 

Instead, what I think he’s mostly interested in capturing is the voice of his character. He makes a video licking his lips in a lascivious way, then snapping the camera forward, making a quick comment, licking his lips again and ending it. 

Is it hilarious? Not necessarily. 

What becomes hilarious, however, is the cumulative body of work. The fact that, if you scroll through the past six months of his Twitter feed, you can watch fifty of these tiny videos in the course of an hour and, by the end of that hour, you’ll have a fully fleshed-out character in your head. Somebody whose individual videos are often less amusing than the character they slowly cultivate in your head.

And so it becomes the case that, while I might not laugh at a given Berwick video, I’ll get in my car after watching it and then, while stuck in traffic, I’ll see something in the street and imagine, vividly, what his character would say about it. The comedic voice is so consistent that, like a loved one, you can imagine its input without hearing it. 

This is what makes me laugh out loud. 

I start thinking of all the brief videos he’s made over the past week that reaffirm the character, the sensibility, and they have this belated cumulative effect of making me cackle in traffic even though, rather than saturating myself in his work, all I did was watch three of his videos, twelve hours ago, not one of them made me laugh….

And yet. Here I am. Redfaced and tearsmeared and gasping in traffic, thinking of Berwick impersonating a church bell in a monologue that evolves slowly from inviting to caustic (“Time to go to church…time to celebrate Jesus…time to read the Bible…COME ON…”).

It isn’t profound, but it’s nuanced, and it’s distinct, and I want to invite you, if you’re not already familiar, to watch the couple clips linked above and see if youre sense of humor skews that way.

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