Uncivil discourse: Michelle Wolf comes out swinging with ‘The Break’

By Jim Sabataso
Correspondent

Michelle Wolf is having a good summer. The comedian and former writer for “Late Night with Seth Meyers” and “The Daily Show” has quickly emerged as an unflinchingly honest critic of American politics, media and culture. Her controversial hosting of this year’s White House Correspondents Dinner — in which she savagely roasted Sarah Huckabee Sanders and put the media and pols of all stripes on blast — launched her into the national spotlight, as critics on both the right and the left chastised Wolf for speaking truth to power a little too clearly.

Wolf’s new weekly Netflix talk show, “The Break,” premiered on the heels of the Correspondents Dinner — a convenient bit of timing that led some to cynically wonder if her head-turning performance was a calculated stunt. If it was, it was effective. Those looking for more of the searing, trenchant political commentary she demonstrated at the dinner won’t be disappointed.

Wolf operates within the currently fashionable milieu of anti-Trump outrage humor exemplified by Samantha Bee, Stephen Colbert and Seth Meyers. But Wolf’s humor has a different feel; it’s sharp but less polished, and unconcerned with offending more-delicate sensibilities — like your Twitter friend who consistently delivers hilarious, NSFW hot takes.

Consequently, “The Break” reflects that unpolished feel. The show is entertaining but uneven — when it’s on, it’s terrifically funny and smart; when it’s not, the humor is clumsy and undisciplined. But that unevenness is part of Wolf’s charm; she’s a young talent who’s still finding her voice as a comedian.

Emboldened by her experience hosting the Correspondents Dinner, Wolf has leaned into her branding as an unapologetic truth-teller.

Wolf stands as a middle finger to the insulting and patronizing notion of civility being pushed by hypocritical conservatives, spineless moderates and over-privileged white liberals right now. In a recent episode, she praised Rep. Maxine Waters for encouraging people to protest Trump officials wherever they are. She even offered advice for how to properly roast Trump cronies in person should the opportunity arise. RE: Ivanka, a.k.a., “the prettiest tumor in a swiftly moving cancer,” Wolf says, “if you see her on the street, call her Tiffany.”

Later in the same episode, she discusses the new Republican National Committee strategy of calling the liberals “unhinged,” playing an ad which uses a clip of her WHCD performance.

“Expecting people not to be unhinged right now is like expecting someone whose house is on fire to just keep calmly rearranging their bookshelves,” she says of the strategy, adding, “There are two things that should be unhinged right now: people and those doors to the child cages.”

Wolf also continues to dunk on Democrats and the media with a zeal rarely exhibited by liberal comedians. She takes a shot at the New York Times op-ed page for legitimizing bad and even dangerous ideas with a musical sketch that imagines it being run by a Willy Wonka-esque nitwit.

In a recent episode, Wolf says she feels like, “Macaulay Culkin in ‘My Girl’ and the news is bees.” If you feel the same way, “The Break” is a satisfying, cathartic release. Like Bee and Meyers, Wolf’s message isn’t going to resonate beyond the choir. And, while some might argue that such divisive comedy is the opposite of what we need right now — I, too, agree that there’s value in building bridges and engaging in good-faith conversations about civility — it still feels good to spend some time venting with someone else who’s also mad as hell.

CHECK IT OUT

New episodes of the “The Break with Michelle Wolf” premiere every Sunday on Netflix.

Jim Sabataso

Jim Sabataso is a freelance writer living in Vermont.

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