Michelle Wolf, the comedian best known for eviscerating Sarah Huckabee Sanders at 2018’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner, is back with a new stand-up special on Netflix—a three-parter called It’s Great to Be Here. This time around, however, Wolf might ruffle feathers in a different circle.
It’s Great to Be Here—a self-financed special-slash-series composed of three 20-minute episodes—debuted Tuesday and finds Wolf riffing on everything from the nude beaches of Barcelona to Thai “ping-pong shows.” (Warning for those thinking of googling that latter reference—it’s NSFW.) All three episodes feature the same no-holds-barred irreverence Wolf’s fans have likely come to expect—for better and, in some moments, perhaps for worse.
The special’s second episode, for example, focuses on both identity and on #MeToo, which Wolf calls “the worst-run movement I’ve ever seen.”
Much of Wolf’s material poignantly points out the hypocrisy white women enact in a society that can often encourage their sense of victimhood, lest they discover and embrace their true power (as she labels it, “Karen-ing”). “Waiting until a couple summers ago to realize that things have been bad for Black people is like needing to see that documentary to know that SeaWorld is bad,” she says at one point. “Like, ‘Did you know whales shouldn’t live in the sink?!’”
But on other topics, like #MeToo, the comedian’s comments start to feel less considered and more incendiary. During one joke, she sums up #MeToo supporters’ position by saying, “Doesn’t matter what you did. You could have raped somebody or accidentally whispered into a boob. It’s all the same, and you have to die.”
Wolf says she “was so frustrated by [#MeToo], because I think we genuinely could have made social change. We could have made things better for women and men, but we fucked it up from the very beginning.” There is, of course, a discussion to be had about how effective #MeToo’s general approach of punishing individual abusers has actually been in promoting justice or spawning long-lasting change. In 2021, for example, The Daily Beast’s Emily Shugerman spoke with insiders who alleged that Time’s Up had lost its way.
More often than not, however, Wolf’s attitude toward #MeToo can seem dismissive and even callous—like when she alludes to an incident in which disgraced film mogul and convicted rapist Harvey Weinstein allegedly tried to pressure a woman into participating in a threesome in exchange for movie roles by claiming that Salma Hayek and Charlize Theron had done the same. “That’s the part you never really think about,” Wolf says. “For all the bad #MeToos out there, there’s like a couple success ones.”
The comedian didn’t stop there. “You should not have to give a blow job to get ahead,” she added. “... But you can. This is just about knowing your skill set. You know who would be really mad to hear this information? Prostitutes. They’re like, ‘You got an Oscar? I got $50.’”
Some might argue that all of these are “just jokes.” Still, you have to wonder who really benefits when Wolf quips, “You hear some women be like, ‘This man hit on me at work—that’s harassment. It made me uncomfortable.’ It’s like, OK, so do you want no one to hit on you at work? ‘No, I only want the men who I want to hit on me to hit on me at work.’” (For the record: This writer, at least, would prefer not to be harassed at work by anyone.)
Sometimes, Wolf’s yarns get us somewhere interesting—like when she dings white women for acting “like we haven’t participated” in white patriarchy, when in fact, “we have participated at the most fundamental of levels: We made you. We’re like the guy who made the atom bomb and went like, ‘But don’t use it!’”
In another clever twist, Wolf suggests women stop procreating with beefcakes and instead focus on the “short, soft-boned” Danny DeVito types before pivoting to abortion rights. “That’s actually why I think a lot of men don’t want to give women access to abortion,” she says. “I think you know deep down that we could start deciding which of you gets to move ahead.”
Other moments, however, feel unnecessarily flippant—a critique that Wolf and many comedians might actually consider a compliment.
For instance: Earlier in the episode, when Wolf says she doesn’t want to “downplay what happens to women,” noting the number of women who get murdered and assaulted each year, she quickly turns it into a springboard for a joke about trans people getting murdered.
“I heard about all these trans women getting murdered and assaulted,” Wolf says, “and all I could think of when I heard that was, ‘Welcome. Jump on in, the water’s terrible—and full of missing women.’”
The audience laughs and lets out a few “ohhhhs,” before Wolf continues: “Some people will say, ‘No, statistically, more trans women are getting murdered.’ And I’m like, ‘Well, are they getting murdered because they’re trans, or are they getting murdered because they’re not used to presenting as a woman?’”
Wolf provides a number of innocuous activities women are advised to avoid as examples (like walking home at night and standing near vans) as well as the absurd and tragic risk factor of marrying the love of your life. “You used to be a lion,” she tells an imaginary trans woman. “Now you’re a gazelle. There’s different rules, bitch, OK?”
The joke seems designed to highlight the violence that befalls both cis and trans women as a shared source of pain, but it also obscures the specific anti-trans vitriol that has animated the right in recent years. As a comedian, Wolf obviously did not set out to write a thesis paper, but still, this treatment feels frustratingly glib.
The remarks started to chafe even more when I remembered that Wolf continued to perform alongside Dave Chappelle as recently as last year, in spite of his routine deployment of anti-trans humor. When comedian Hannah Gadsby called out Netflix for touting their work as an excuse to continue to platform Chappelle, Wolf took the opposing side in Gadsby’s Instagram comments.
As for #MeToo, Wolf also dodged questions about Louis C.K.’s return to the Comedy Cellar during a 2018 interview, just one year after C.K. admitted to sexual misconduct allegations from five different women. “I think it’s for the audience to decide,” she demurred when GQ asked if it was too soon. Two years later, she performed at a Chappelle comedy show that included C.K. as a surprise guest.
These associations alone do not define Wolf’s legacy or her work, but they do provide context for some of her comments. As she expressed to Gadsby during their Instagram dust-up, Wolf doesn’t believe there’s a “line” one can cross in comedy—a belief plenty of her contemporaries also hold. If the continued careers of many prove anything, it’s that she’s probably right, whether some of us like it or not.