James is starting the Janelle James Comedy Festival at the Bell House on Dec. 4, which replaces the Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival, a long-running Brooklyn institution known for its savvy, offbeat curation and jokingly self-aggrandizing title. James’s jokes veer from hyperbole to understatement, self-deprecating to disarmingly uncensored. “I am Caribbean, so I was homophobic until a few months ago,” she said at a recent show.
Despite what you might have heard, President Donald J. Trump hasn’t ruined comedy, but he has forced comics to adjust. (Last week, the comic Emily Heller released a new album, “Pasta,” that includes a nearly six-minute bit in which she explains her inability to find the president funny, and in so doing, makes a wonderfully florid joke that disproves her own point.)
Trump barely comes up in James’s jokes, but his effect on the culture infuses so many of her premises. She doesn’t need to mention his name when she says she stopped exercising because the world is coming to an end. You know what (and whom) she’s talking about.
Liza Treyger, a raunchier comic who will perform at the James festival on Dec. 5, delivers sex jokes that aren’t afraid to dive deep into the gory details or wallow in bad taste. A Holocaust joke she tells about hooking up during a Birthright tour to Israel might divide an audience, but those who laugh will laugh hard. Treyger regularly kills at shows in New York, but on “The Degenerates,” a collection of half-hour specials released on Netflix last month, she delivers a breakthrough performance.
She jokes about depression, masturbation and how it’s ridiculous that no one pays for pornography, making the case that its stars work harder than anyone, calling them “basically slutty athletes.” Once she establishes a playful relationship with the crowd, she shifts from teasing to confrontational. After skewering straight men for not doing more to get better at oral sex, she retreats, for an instant. “No judgment,” she says, raising her hands in mock surrender, before shifting to a stern stare: “Judgment.”