For the past four years, The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail has been the flagship show at Los Angeles’ NerdMelt Showroom. It’s a weekly comedy showcase (“alt-comedy” seems to be the preferred descriptor whenever the show is written up) hosted by Jonah Ray and Kumail Nanjiani and featuring a nice mix of drop-ins from big names and great sets from “lesser-known” comedians. It’s an intimate show in an intimate setting, but Comedy Central recently took on the task of translating it to an eight-episode television series.
The result is solid, if nothing special. As expected, each episode includes a few stand-up sets from comedians — the pilot, “The One With the Childhood Crushes,” features Steve Agee, Moshe Kasher, David Koechner, and Neal Brennan — broken up by banter and crowd work from Ray and Nanjiani, as well as some glimpses backstage (often featuring Nanjiani’s wife and The Meltdown‘s wonderful producer, Emily V. Gordon).
The backstage moments definitely set this apart from the other stand-up shows (like, say, John Oliver’s New York Stand-Up Show, which is a more straightforward host-introduces-comedians show) and give us that cool, insider-y feeling of “hanging out” with our favorite comedians. Unfortunately, these segments aren’t as rich as they should be, at least not in the pilot. The parts I’ve watched of the second and third episodes are slightly better (and hey, also feature some women on stage!).
It’s the onstage comedy that’s the best part, not just the featured comedians but also the chemistry between the hosts and the crowd work. Ray’s reactions are always fun, and Nanjiani in particular is quick on his feet and nails all of his improvised lines.
Then there are the individual sets, which, much like any comedy show you can attend, range in quality — although, thankfully, none of them are actually bad. Most are inspired, offbeat bits. Neal Brennan sets up three microphones — one for one-liners, one for fully realized jokes, and one for just straight-up emotional honesty — and travels between the three, gaining big laughs not only for his punchlines, but also from his quick pivots from one mic to the other. Later, Moshe Kasher has a planted heckler accuse him of looking like a French clown and instructs him to mime increasingly odd, and funny, situations.
My only real qualm with the show is that there’s so much happening. Multiple acts, the backstage bits, the host banter, and, in the pilot, a surprise cameo by Adam Scott are all jam-packed into about 21 minutes. It’s lightning quick, which I do often appreciate in a show (and it works with the cool setting of the back room of a comic book store), and the format, quick and funny enough to keep you awake, works for the 12:30 AM slot — but it also means that we don’t get full sets or longer moments backstage. The Meltdown never stays put for long enough to give us a full experience, but what we do get is still good enough to keep me there.