“I Am the Devil”: Why Anthony Jeselnik’s Act Is More Twisted—and Timely—Than Ever

bout 15 minutes into his new Netflix stand-up special, Fire in the Maternity Ward, Anthony Jeselnik sets up his political material. After a punch line celebrating how Christian Scientists abstain from modern medicine—and a self-satisfied sip of water—the comic asks the audience to indulge him for a moment as he gets serious. For a solid minute, he talks about the importance of speaking truth to power, about calling out humanity’s wrongs, and about his disbelief that people in America can still obsess over the trivial with all of the horrible things happening right now. “For example,” he says, pausing for a beat. “Have you ever dropped a baby?”

This is trademark Jeselnik—a tension-building setup that ends with a twist of both the premise and the knife. No matter where a joke seems to be headed, a hard turn for the terrible is looming just around the corner. As so many other comedians recently have taken to focusing on politics, Jeselnik has preferred to use society’s wickedness as a vehicle to emphasize his own. “When you think I’m really about to go after Trump, I think that’s the opportunity,” Jeselnik says between bites of an uni roll at Katsuya in Hollywood. “The problem is actually an opportunity.”

The Ringer