Review: 'Kevin James: Irregardless'

I did stand-up for about a decade in my twenties and I loved it. I was reasonably successful, but I was never going to be a breakout star. So when I got the chance to do talk radio, I took it because I was tired of traveling and needed a new challenge.

But even after being offstage for 20+ years, I still think about it. I stand in the shower and work on routines for an act I'll never do. I catch myself dreaming about being onstage and I wonder if I still have what it takes to stand in front of strangers and make them laugh.

And in the abstract intellectualness of the idea, the challenge of connecting with an audience when you're older is tempting. Stand-up is mostly a young person's game. It's tough to stand on stage when you're in your 40s, 50s or 60s and connect with an audience. Even if you're a well-known comedian, the rules of the game are that you need new material. And given that most material needs to have some connection to your life, some thread of continuity to your previous work, most comedians find they struggle to make the transition.

Some comics like Jay Leno have acts which are impersonal enough that they can just buy some new lines. But for most comics who came of age in the 1980s and later, they need more than that. 

And audiences have watched a number of well-known stand-ups struggle with this transition. Chris Rock's most recent stand-up special was fine. But aside from the jokes about "the slap," it felt like a holding action from a man who wasn't quite sure what he wanted to talk about on stage anymore. He's a couple of decades past being a hungry comic and talking about his current life isn't exactly going to connect with the average member of his audience.

Dave Chappelle's approach has been to evolve into being the comic he would have ridiculed when he was in his twenties. As I noted in my review of his most recent Netflix special, Chapelle's current comedic point-of-view is difficult for many long-time fans to accept:

Given all of that, I'm not sure what to make of comedian-turned anti-Trans activist Dave Chappelle's obsession with trans people, but after watching yet another Netflix special that is equal parts limp comedy and anti-trans whining, I'd like to see Chappelle use some of that big Netflix money to hire a psychologist or two to delve into his psyche.

For comedy fans of a certain age, it's difficult to see someone who you've admired veer off into irrelevance and intolerance. On a human level, you want to provide your idols every possible opportunity for redemption. Because admitting they are now this distasteful, unpleasant person is not just sad. It also makes you wonder what you didn't see in their personality in their earlier career.

In a rational world, a comic who joked if he went to prison he would pretend to be trans so he could abuse women would face some sort of public reckoning. But Dave Chappelle continues to crank out Netflix specials for eight figure paydays while simultaneously whining about how his critics are trying to cancel him.

Given all of this, I was honestly dreading turning on Kevin James: Irregardless. I am a huge fan of James, especially his TV work. I remember watching a live filming of an episode of King Of Queens and James was working to draw every laugh out a scene. There was one moment where he went through 5-6 different approaches to a physical bit until it got a huge laugh from the audience. That was something James did very well and it's unfortunate he didn't get more love from critics.

But it's been a long time since I thought of James as a stand-up and given his age and time in industry, I had real fears about what I was in for with this special.

To be kind, Kevin James: Irregardless is pretty terrible. In general, every bit goes on about 25% more than it should. And there are times when he starts to circle back around to take one too many approaches to an idea like he's some comedic Columbo with ADHD.

But the most disappointing part of the special is the overall tone and topics James chooses to highlight. It's a collection of topics you'd expect an older, kind-of out-of-touch man to rant about. Kids are on their video game systems too much, participation trophies, kids today are soft, blah, blah, blah.

And the last 20 or so minutes of the special are built around the premise that while James doesn't enjoy small talk and conversation, his wife enjoys it a lot. So the entire final hunk of his performance is built around a series of bits with the over-arching theme of "why won't my wife shut the fuck up?" Very little of it is funny and frankly some of it is just unpleasant to experience.

There are a lot of ways stand-ups can deal with becoming older and less adventurous. Kevin James apparently decided to become the vaguely unpleasant old guy who rants about the world.

Which is certainly a choice. But it's not one I'm interested in experiencing again anytime soon.

Kevin James: Irregardless premieres Tuesday, January 22nd, 2024 on Prime Video.