Iliza: Elder Millennial - Millennial life isn’t all laughs, even when it’s being mined for comedy

Exuberant presence: Iliza Shlesinger is all energy on stage, ponytail swishing, as she reels off jokes
Exuberant presence: Iliza Shlesinger is all energy on stage, ponytail swishing, as she reels off jokes

The best stand-up comedy catches you off guard. In order to elicit genuine lols it needs to meld a truth that you’ve always thought but not been able to articulate, with a new, perhaps slightly surreal or even silly take. It needs pace and an element of surprise.

Iliza Shlesinger has plenty of the first — galloping through candid revelations about life as a woman — but not enough other factors that make comedy work.

She is the only woman to have won NBC’s reality competition Last Comic Standing and this is her fourth special for Netflix.

Her shows at the Soho Theatre and Southbank Centre sold out. There is a huge appetite for comedy — perhaps it’s because real life can be so bleak at the moment — particularly female comedy.

We’ve moved on from Christopher Hitchens’s 2007 essay Why Women Aren’t Funny — we have Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Amy Schumer, who sold out the Soho Theatre in half an hour last week when she did a last-minute show, Amy Poehler ... in fact, there’s no need for a list of funny women to prove this point. Yet they are still in a minority and Shlesinger is aware of this. But her narrow focus on dating feels like it’s adding to the problem — why should women feel they can only talk about women’s issues? Women can be funny about non-gender-related topics too.

Shlesinger is certainly exuberant, prancing around, ponytail swishing, as she presents a run-down of life as an elder millennial. Being 35, she says, puts her at the cusp of millennialdom. As someone firmly in generation millennial, I’m not sure why she’s keen to be part of the millennial club.

It would be nice if she talked about this more. Instead it’s a barrage of dating moans, sorry, jokes, and generalisations that present a dim view of women. We can’t handle rejection because it doesn’t happen to us as much (“he broke up with me at breakfast and now I don’t drink milk”) and we don’t have the confidence to hit on people. She jokes that it’s nice the men do the work asking us out “because we do everything else”, she says gesturing at her body. “I haven’t eaten bread for five months.”

There are funny moments — particularly when she talks about how women don’t admit to other women that they are going out in order to find a boyfriend. “Oh, I’m just going out with my girlfriends ... in full make-up.” As an elder millennial, she casts herself as a mentor, telling girls to stop making excuses for men not texting back — if he likes you he will make time, even if he is busy and all his family are dying. She advises testing male loyalty by asking them to do a tedious task — if they like you they will oblige.

Comedian: Iliza Shlesinger (Michael S. Schwartz/Getty Images)
Comedian: Iliza Shlesinger (Michael S. Schwartz/Getty Images)

Don’t watch if you are prudish. She isn’t afraid of physicality, with a section on scrotums. “However bad women think they look pales in comparison to 100 per cent of scrotums. My thighs don’t touch but you have two shrunken heads hanging so low that they are sometimes in the toilet water.”

She’s at her best when she takes a sojourn from the struggle of being a female human and talks about birds, doing peacock impressions. “I’m allowed to make fun of peacocks because I grew up with them,” she quips. It’s still a feminist joke, though: “A female is a pea hen.”

There’s also a small dog in a sailor hat who trots on. He’s the star of the show. Otherwise there’s plenty of potential — but you get the feeling she would be funnier if she stopped trying so hard.

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