Review: 'Good Timing With Jo Firestone'

Post by: Rick Ellis 16 October, 2021

I did stand-up for about decade, through the 1980s into the 1990s. I turned into a pretty good comic along the way, but even when I was terrible I loved the magic that came with making people laugh. I haven't been onstage in close to 30 years, but I still find myself writing jokes for an act I'll probably never do. I've even seriously considered doing an open mike or two, just to see if an old guy can get laughs from a room full of strangers half my age.

I say all this because I know firsthand the magic that comes from a good joke. Or even a not so good one. It's one of the qualities that makes us human and it connects the comedian and the audience in an almost spiritual way. A lot of modern comedy seems so obsessed with breaking boundaries and speaking truth that many comedians forget the most important thing: the way that seeing someone's smile or hearing them unexpectedly laugh can lift your soul. 2021 is a complicated time and there's something to be said for comedy that's free of everything but the joy of laughter and losing yourself for a few minutes in the moment.

I didn't know what to expect from the Peacock comedy special Good Timing With Jo Firestone before I watched it. Peacock didn't provide a screener ahead of time and in fact, the streamer didn't have much to say about the special. I knew the premise, but to be honest, I was afraid it would be some snarky attempt to make fun of some old folks. But instead, the program is the Ted Lasso of comedy specials: a warm, gentle show that seems to exist mostly to make people happy.

Comic and actress Jo Firestone began teaching a comedy class to a group of seniors last year and when the pandemic broke, she moved it over to Zoom. The students range in age from 66 to 88 and while a couple of them have some tangential connection to show business (one woman sold jokes to Joan Rivers for $10 a piece), the majority of them were just doing the class as a distraction. When the pandemic slowed down earlier this year, the class met in person and ultimately everyone performed a short set in front of a live audience.

Good Timing With Jo Firestone splits its 50-minute running time into three different parts, although there is some overlap between the segments. There is a look at the group in-person classes, as Firestone throws out subject ideas and guides the often raucous conversation (and anyone who think seniors are mostly prudes should watch the back-and-forth about a pussy joke). Firestone also does one-on-one interviews, where she is able to explore the senior's lives and experiences a bit. And the final hunk of the special is devoted to the performances.

The performances take place in a theater at 2pm and as you might expect, the quality of the comedy doesn't generally rise to the level of the average open-mike night at any comedy club. But that isn't the point. The performances are engaging, sweet and sometimes unpredictable (one guy shows up nearly naked). There's a joyful earnestness to the event that just puts a smile on your face. These are not people who have illusions about having a comedy career or changing the world. They are just there for the companionship and the laughter. It's infectious and a reminder of what comedy can be.

None of this would work with Firestone, who provides just the right note to the special. Despite the fact that Good Timing With Jo Firestone has her name in it, the special isn't about her. She's there to guide, to encourage, to laugh at the absurdity of the situation. She's a proxy for the audience, most of which I suspect wish they could have been there to see it in person.

Good Timing With Jo Firestone is a palate cleanser for the soul and I've already watched it a second time. And I can't remember the last time I did that with a comedy special.

I hope that you'll both watch the special and share it with others, since Peacock's approach to Good Timing With Jo Firestone seems to be "well, maybe people will find it buried in our library." I realize that the new Halloween movie is Peacock's big priority this week. But if that is the case, then maybe moving this special to another less crowded week might have made more sense. It deserves some extra promotional attention and it has the potential of being a special that can take off on social media.

Good Timing With Jo Firestone is now streaming on Peacock.

Last modified on Tuesday, 19 October 2021 13:39