Comedian Nikki Glaser was the headliner for Winterfest in Strong Auditorium on Saturday, but I’m pretty sure that most people were there to see the opener: Jaboukie Young-White. 

After all, he was the one who the people sitting in the front brought signs for

So it wasn’t really surprising that his 20-minute-or-so set stole the show — the walkouts started soon after he left.

I suspect another factor contributing to the walkouts was that Glaser’s set felt like eating an entire pot of crappy macaroni and cheese.

It was passably enjoyable at the time, but something felt wrong. Afterwards I realized that something was indeed wrong. But it’s too late, and now the gross aftertaste won’t leave. 

The freefall really began when Glaser told a lengthy joke around the idea that “people who have been molested are so much cooler.”

Outrageousness was probably the point of the gag, and it was outrageous. I laughed at how outrageous it was, and immediately felt bad about it. I’ve since tried to let myself off the hook by convincing myself that I laughed because I laugh when I’m uncomfortable. Because it wasn’t really funny and it certainly wasn’t clever — it was just shocking and insensitive and easily hurtful.

Which sucks because there was some good stuff after that joke, like her observation that the best way to impersonate Jennifer Aniston was to pretend you’re watching a squirrel almost get hit by a car. 

The focus of most of Glaser’s set was sex and relationships, and there was quality to be found, but it took patience. One of her best bits was probably the cleanest — about the perils of interwoven-finger hand-holding. She urged students to use mittens for protection to avoid “the dry-humping of hand-holding.”

There seemed to be a very bleak point to it all — women are eternally screwed over by men — and at times it was very well-made. A point about how women and men define sense of humor in each other positively stung. But by the last stretch it got exhausting.

The contrast to Young-White’s material was stark. His set also had its share of filth, and was funny, but he didn’t use it as a crutch. 

His lack of reliance on any one type of humor was his best asset. He used quippy one-liners, slideshows, and acting skills. He lampooned the “gay best friend” trope in romantic comedies by fusing the archetype with Gollum. Another time he just relied on a general aura of funny: The audience — myself included — laughed at him simply drinking water.

The crucial difference between Glaser and Young-White was in part sensitivity, but also adaptability. Watching Glaser, I got the feeling that a lot of her jokes that upset people would have flown a couple of years ago. I don’t think Young-White will ever run into a culture-shift crisis of that sort because he’s not depending on any one schtick.

Young-White is a relative newcomer comedy-wise, but the versatility he displayed on Saturday promises a progression  from being the opening act on college campuses to greater stardom in his own right.

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