Nikki Glaser frames herself as transgressive on her first hour-long HBO special, Good Clean Filth; she’s not just a comedian, she’s also a freewheeling sex educator teaching us how to prepare for anal sex and about the joy of post-coital cum jokes. However salacious her Denver-recorded set is, though, it’s just not as groundbreaking as it purports to be.
Glaser’s form is on-point throughout the special. She’s got her pacing down, delivering throwaway under-the-breath punchlines at the end of certain bits and letting her vocal cords do all the work on others. While some of her jokes are reminiscent of those on her 2019 special Bangin’ (and considering both sets are predominately about sex, it makes sense), she also comes up with hilarious, bizarre imagery in Good Clean Filth, like how bits of toilet paper in a person’s vulva are “hamster joints.” Glaser knows her craft and performs the entirety of the set at a confident, clipped pace.
But therein lies the problem. She sets herself up as messy and relatable, an everywoman type. Glaser doesn’t mind germs, she’s struggled to give handjobs, she wants a husband for the apocalypse. However, the execution doesn’t match the content. She delivers every joke with such precision that it feels sterile in comparison to the words coming out of her mouth.
The bit that best sums up this strange juxtaposition happens before the special itself even starts: a shot shows her hurrying backstage as an assistant takes toilet paper off the comedian’s shoe and Glaser removes her Invisalign ahead of the performance. It’s a prerecorded scene meant to convey just how normal and rough-around-the-edges she is. Comedians, they’re just like us! But this image Glaser projects—the one that is supposedly honest and chaotic—is so clearly curated. Of course, every performer’s persona is curated to varying degrees; it’s too much to ask someone to be completely unedited in a world where we all choose what sides of ourselves to expose to the public, to potentially be poked and prodded by strangers halfway through the world. There’s a good middle ground to be found, though; perhaps Glaser’s stand-up would benefit from a bit more vulnerability, or a shake up in her meticulous, almost predictable routine.
While Glaser’s jokes are funny and creative, they do not prove nearly as unconventional or boundary-breaking as advertised. With the exception of a bit about giving your parents head near the start of Good Clean Filth, everything else feels like something you’ve already heard in an Amy Schumer special, or on Broad City, or on Girls, or any number of shows from the 2010s. In short, talking frankly about sex isn’t that subversive in 2022. Glaser’s comedy might seem edgy to the type of girl you knew in high school who still shares inspirational quotes on Instagram, but Good Clean Filth is simply par for the course these days.
Clare Martin is a cemetery enthusiast and Paste’s assistant comedy editor. Go harass her on Twitter @theclaremartin.