Neal Brennan’s New Comedy Special ‘3 Mics’ is a Thing of Beauty

3 Mics‘, Neal Brennan’s new comedy special on Netflix, is a thing of a beauty. Not only is it funny and moving, but it feels important in a way that a lot of comedy specials, however entertaining they may be, simply don’t. It’s daring, innovative, and fresh—which is what we always look for out of comedians as far as the actual material that comprises their specials, but rarely demand of their specials themselves. After this one, we may start to.

When it comes to comedy specials, we’re typically content with a comedian, a microphone, an audience, and a curtain. 3 Mics has all those things—plus, simply, two more mics. But that little addition, and how it is utilized, takes it to another level.

At stage left is a microphone for one-liners.

At stage right is a microphone for stand-up.

And at center stage is a microphone for what Neal has termed ’emotional stuff’.

I knew this going in, but how he’d be using the different mics was a mystery to me. Would he be constantly darting back and forth between them? How exactly was this going to work, and more importantly, would it work?

The way Neal switches between the three microphones is through what could be called chapters. After a chapter at one microphone, the lights go down, the audience applauds the end of the chapter, and then the lights come up and Neal is at the microphone that his next chapter takes place at.

The one-liner mic is used as a palate cleanser after ’emotional stuff’ sections, which are mostly laugh-free (by design). Then it’s off to the stand-up mic for a while, and then back to the ’emotional stuff’ mic.

The pattern may be simple, but it’s effective and never monotonous. And the idea of combining three different stand-up styles and having them work together to create peaks and valleys is ingenious. This is serious ‘why hasn’t anyone done this before?’-level stuff.

While the stand-up material itself is quite good, it’s all made even better buy the presentation, or rather, the orchestration. You simply laugh way harder and more cathartically at one-liners after you’ve just heard a long story about depression than if you were to simply hear them in a vacuum. And you’re more apt to listen intently to a jokeless story after the ice has been broken with some standup bits.

This is truly a standup special that is greater than the sum of its material, and I hope comedians who see it are inspired by it to innovate. It’s what the art form has needed for quite some time.

With my own standup—and my own standup special to be filmed later this year—I’ve been looking to innovate as well. Seeing this special has helped me feel a bit less alone in that pursuit, and has been confirmation for me that I am on the right track as far as my impulse to do so.

I hope you enjoy the special, and I hope you enjoy mine too!