Flipping channels in an odd hotel room a couple of weeks ago in a city I didn’t actually intend to be in, I found I had Showtime. This was moderately exciting because, well, I don’t have Showtime, and we celebrate the small victories. There was a stand-up special on featuring Alec Mapa, who I’d never seen before. It was a fantastic hour set, mostly because it really wasn’t stand-up comedy.
See, that’s what we call it when we get someone up on stage rambling to us for an hour, making us laugh. But there’s a hair splitting distinction here with the verbiage: we never talk about stand-up dramatists, only stand-up comics. The former simply doesn’t exist, so the people who get up there and do exactly that, really end up just being called the latter. Sure, there are one-person plays and the like, but that feels like an altogether different category.
Sure, Mapa is up there making us laugh, but there’s a distinction between what he’s doing and what most stand-up comics are doing. There are jokes, to be sure, but they are embedded in an overall narrative, a story that he’s telling. Some of Louis CK’s best material leans more into this territory, though he still tends to operate in the stand-up comic mold of having short bits of narrative that exist in order to feed a series of punchlines. The punchlines are still the important part.
Mapa’s show though focused for the entire hour walking through the narrative of his and his husband’s long process of deciding to adopt, the almost longer process of finding a young African American boy who they knew was the son they didn’t have, and then the tale of them becoming a family. Yes, it’s funny, but it’s funny in that same way that great dramas tend to be very funny: well told human stories are almost invariably funny.
Track down this special and give it a watch, it’s heartwarming and lovely and funny, a first-person account of a beautiful story. Trailer below, though I warn you that it’s really not that good of a trailer since it just throws out a couple of the punchlines that stand alone without any of the sense of the narrative behind them.