Comedy specials that remind you it’s okay to find the humor

Pete Davidson in "Alive from New York."
(Marcus Price/Netflix)

It feels like a long time ago, but once upon a time, we used to gather in confined spaces (basements, usually) with other folks to listen to someone with a microphone try and make us laugh. We’d buy the two drink minimum and settle in for an evening of keen observation designed to make us chuckle.

Whether it’s slice-of-life commentary or political humor, comedy has always been there to lighten the mood and provide some much-needed levity in trying times.

The greatest example of this I can think of in recent history was the first episode of “Saturday Night Live” that aired post-9/11. I remember wondering how they would go back to making us laugh in the face of utter devastation. I shouldn’t have doubted them.

The episode aired 18 days after the attacks. Then-mayor Rudy Giuliani, surrounded by firefighters and police officers and “SNL” producer Lorne Michaels, spoke about the resilience of the city and the importance of NYC institutions like “SNL” returning to the airwaves.

Michaels then asked, “Can we be funny?” to which Giuliani perfectly deadpanned, “Why start now?”

It was a brilliant opening monologue that acknowledged the pain and suffering we’d been through as a nation, and then broke the somber mood with a joke that poked fun at the show itself. It made people realize it was indeed okay to laugh again. Laughter is good for the soul, especially in desperate times.

It remains to be seen how shows like “SNL” and other comics will tackle the coronavirus pandemic once they return to making people laugh. In the meantime, while we’re settled in our homes for the long haul of social distancing, here are a two comedy specials that might help you remember that it is, indeed, okay to laugh.

Sam Morril, “I Got This

Within the first minute of Sam Morril’s comedy special, “I Got This,” it’s clear Morril is a different kind of comic. Maybe it’s a sign of the times, but Morril’s open and frank discussions about serious issues like the #MeToo movement stand out. It’s refreshing to hear a male comic be so, well, woke.

Morril opens with, “It’s a good time to be alive. Great time to be a man. The bar is nice and low.” He continues: “I had a good mom growing up. Ever since I was a little kid, my mom would always say, ‘No means no.’ And she was talking about cookies, but I put it together.”

The New York City-based comic’s confident, easygoing delivery means he can tackle heavy topics like sexual assault, depression, mass shootings, sobriety and 9/11 with ease. Of course, his jokes can be offensive, but in a non-threatening, clever way, so he gets away with it. Released in February 2020 on Comedy Central’s YouTube channel, the special is free to view and has already been viewed by over 1.8 million people.

For more timely Morril content, check out his new Instagram series, “New Couple Gets Quarantined,” with his girlfriend, comedian Taylor Tomlinson, which is based on actual conversations the new couple have had while navigating the quarantine together (find the series on Instagram at @SamMorril and @TaylorTomlinson).

Pete Davidson, “Pete Davidson: Alive from New York”

About midway through the beginning of Pete Davidson’s new Netflix special, “Pete Davidson: Alive from New York,” just after a particularly cringe-worthy joke regarding babysitting his friend’s baby, Davidson offers this explanation to anyone who is offended by his humor: “I know that joke splits the room ... I know it’s weird to tell jokes like that, but this is a comedy club. It would be weird if this was a town hall meeting and I grabbed the mic and was like, ‘Hey guys, here are some ideas I have.’”

It’s impossible to escape Davidson, even if you wanted to. The “Saturday Night Live” star went from bit player on the legendary NBC show to a bonafide tabloid sensation following his whirlwind engagement and subsequent breakup with Ariana Grande in 2018. Since then, he’s remained a pop culture fixture, whether he’s discussing mental illness during Weekend Update segments, starring in movies like “Big Time Adolescence on Hulu or continuing to date a string of Hollywood’s most eligible women.

Davidson’s Netflix special touches on all of the topics that have kept him in the news in recent years: what it’s like to live in his mother’s basement (to be fair, he owns the house), 9/11 (Davidson’s father was a firefighter who was killed on 9/11), his feud with veteran and politician Dan Crenshaw (“The only thing I did is … make that guy famous, and a household name for no reason. I did what Ariana Grande did for me.”), and sex and relationships, including his notorious engagement to Grande. In fact, the most entertaining parts of the special are his riffs on his time with the pop star, which might mean Grande gets the last laugh after all.