Iliza Shlesinger, winner of the sixth season of NBC’ Last Comic Standing, released her third standup special on Netflix on September 23, Confirmed Kills. Those familiar with Shlesinger’s comedic style will recognize a common thread and theme to the special, but the comic’s rhetorical tendencies and performance strengths shine through as well.
Though the first 10 minutes of the show borrows heavily from her previous material, and a hashtag gimmick distracts more than anything else, this is still a complex and powerful hour-plus of comedy. Shlesinger’s performance skills are evident, especially in a wonderfully manic closing skit, and the feminist thematic leanings add an underlying method to Iliza’s madness. All told, Confirmed Kills is a strong third offering from the comic, and displays the requisite artistic growth to allay all fears that Shlesinger is merely a one-trick act.
Shlesinger has made her mark by exploiting the bizarre ways that women interact with each other, especially when alcohol and clubbing is involved. She also has impressive vocal control, and is able to shift between characters in a way that is slightly reminiscent of fellow comic Maria Bamford (though Bamford employs this technique more often). She has a wide range at her disposal, as well. Whether it is her bizarre mixture of a drunk girl friend + sheep (braying included!) that she uses as a stand-in for mindless female groupthink, or the sophisticated WASPy businesswoman that she slides into seemingly without effort, Iliza’s control over her voice is a true strength. If I have one criticism of this part of her act, it is only that I wish she would take advantage of this skill more often.
Another critique of Confirmed Kills is that Shlesinger opens the act with a piece focused on her “Party Goblin” character – a kind of mental gremlin that she introduced in previous performances. For those hoping to see artistic growth from Shlesinger in her third special, these first ten minutes or so were awkward and worrying. Personally, I was concerned that this was going to be the way of the entire act, which would have been a real travesty. Fortunately, after these earlier hiccups, Iliza stops relying on past reference for laughs, and begins to build upon some of her past ideas, introducing a great deal of maturity into a contentious topic: feminism, and the way women are treated in the world.
This is the evident theme of Confirmed Kills. Shlesinger isn’t afraid to introduce and investigate complex topics like sexism, race, or sexual violence. She certainly isn’t a George Carlin with her wordplay or exploration of hot-button issues, but she has some wonderful insights nonetheless. In particular, her defense of female sexuality and her condemnation of so-called “slut-shaming” is welcome rhetoric, and Shlesinger navigates these potential minefields quite well.
Finally, the special closes with a kind of performance skit from Shlesinger where she imagines her ideal episode of Shark Tank. It is an absolute delight, a haphazard piece of manic insanity wrapped around true pathos and frustration. It is no wonder that Iliza closes the film with this skit, as it brings the house down and elicits multiple belly-laughs. Confirmed Kills is worth a viewing for this section alone, but there is much more to enjoy throughout. Iliza Shlesinger is clearly an adept performer, and if she continues to infuse her comedy with more thematic rhetoric, her esteem with only improve.