Wyatt Cenac is no stranger to social satire. His rise to prominence in comedy can mostly be attributed to the four years he spent as a correspondent on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” On the show, his race-oriented segments focused on issues pertaining to African-Americans and mocked the ambivalence of white politicians to those concerns.
“Wyatt Cenac: Brooklyn,” his first stand-up release since leaving Stewart’s show in 2012, continues this trend of socially conscious comedy. The main theme of the one-hour stand-up special is a satirical look at the ongoing gentrification of the Brooklyn area.
Cenac is perceptive because he is genuinely curious about Brooklyn. His commentary is sharp, delving into facets of his life including his brief stint living in Manhattan, his decision to move across the river and his growing frustration at the changing landscape of where he lives. During one particularly insightful bit, he identifies the inherent ridiculousness of a mayonnaise store opening in his neighborhood. Cenac is not afraid of getting personal for the majority of the performance, especially when discussing his childhood summers in Brooklyn with his grandmother.
Cenac appears to feel right at home in a venue that is more intimate than his first comedy special, “Comedy Person.” The smaller audience in Brooklyn’s Union Hall creates a sense of warmth and seclusion that is absent from arena comedy specials. Cenac’s demeanor also contributes to the warm atmosphere — at many times during the set he sits on the standard stool and tells his stories in a subdued and calm manner. This refreshing contrast to the bombastic style of other big-name comedians is one of his greatest strengths. It allows him to explore more personal material, notably a lengthy segment about the death of his father showing Cenac’s ambition a testament to his unique storytelling style.
Cenac also released “Brooklyn” as a limited edition vinyl record, but the vinyl loses one of the fun, unique visual elements featured in the Netflix special — puppets. Occasionally, while Cenac is speaking, there is a puppet show acting out his words while the stand-up footage is shown in the background. These moments occur sporadically and without any reason, and they largely serve no purpose other than to reiterate whatever point Cenac is making. Still, it is a cute and entertaining idea that does not detract from the power of Cenac’s experiential and observational commentary.
Above all else, the content is consistently funny. Cenac is a talented comedian who is clearly passionate about the gentrification rampant in his city. Although he abandons the main theme during the last quarter of the hour, the frequency of laughs stays consistent. Bookended by shots of Brooklyn streets, the stand-up special is a hilarious takedown of the borough’s pressing issues and a striking disclosure of the personal connection Cenac has to the area.
A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Oct. 23 print edition. Email Zach Martin at [email protected]