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Photograph: Global Panorama

Michael Che Matters

What makes stand-up comedy so special isn’t the jokes themselves, but the way they’re delivered. A comedian at the top of their game can get laughs with just a single word. They know when to milk a joke and when to let it go. They can interact with their audiences, and react to what they say. They can come up with new material on the spot, and often make it funnier than something they’ve practiced a thousand times. Watching a master comedian at work this is nothing short of amazing.

Stand-up comedy has seen a popularity boom in recent years. Netflix alone has over 50 original stand-up shows, and many more that they’ve brought in. So, for one comedian to stand out above the rest, they have to do something really special.

SNL-star Michael Che is one such comedian. In Michael Che Matters he demonstrates not only his talent for establishing a relationship with the audience, but that he’s willing to risk this relationship by using his routine to address serious political issues. In just over an hour he gives his take on racism, sexism, Trump, Hitler, Jesus and more. And he doesn’t always go for laughs. At one point Che actually gets booed by the audience. This isn’t cut from the film. In fact, it seems intentional. Che is completely unphased by the booing, as if he expected it. As it starts to die down he simply deadpans “shut up”, then carries on.

At one point Che finds an audience member who doesn’t seem to be enjoying themselves. The next wave of jokes are delivered directly to her. Despite some of his material testing the outer limits of good taste (especially regarding homophobia, bestiality and Christianity), Che wants to ensure everyone in the room is having a good time. He says: “You’re not offended, are you? Let me know if I go too far. This shit’s being taped.”

You can’t always tell when Michael Che is joking. His delivery is so sly and cool that he can slip between joke and serious monologue without effort. This can be seen when he addresses the Black Lives Matter movement and becomes visibly passionate, yet remains deadpan.

“This country can’t agree on anything anymore. We can’t even agree on ‘Black Lives Matter’. That’s a controversial statement. Black lives… matter! Not “matters more than you”, just matters. Matters. Just matters. That’s where we’re starting the negotiations.”

On paper, this could be an extract from a very timely and very serious speech. But when delivered by Michael Che, it’s comic genius. Each time he repeats the word “matter” he’s getting bigger and better laughs. He’s found a joke the audience like, and he’s making the most of it. He succeeds not only because his material is good, or because he can deliver it in a funny way, but because he knows how to respond to his audience. Che doesn’t just recite his jokes – he performs them.