Young-White stares blankly: “I thought, Hmmm.”
Comedy nerds will notice the echo of Jack Benny’s classic joke about his own frugality. When a stickup artist demands, “Your money or your life!,” Benny answers, “I’m thinking it over!”
But as much as originality matters in stand-up, its importance is easy to exaggerate. As with magic tricks or story structures, there is a limited number of kinds of new jokes, but an infinite variety of ways to pull them off. What Young-White has done is update Benny for millennial comedy, leaning on a classic joke form to serve the perspective of a young person who lives much of his life staring at a screen.
On “The Daily Show,” he also leans into jokes about his age, playing the part of the Senior Youth Correspondent. But his sharpest social commentary is filtered through a personal prism. In between punch lines, Young-White narrates his own story, giving the audience a clear sense of his background, describing his Jamaican family with two brothers (one straight, one bisexual) growing up in Chicago where he was taught sex education by nuns in a Catholic school. As an adult, he lived in that city with seven roommates, including an actual gay man living in a closet (the setup to one of his better punch lines) before moving to Los Angeles just long enough to develop a loathing of it to bring to New York.
His stories position him as a struggling outsider, but not in a way that invites sympathy. Young-White can be cutting, but it’s always with a smile and an eye roll. There’s a carefree attitude to his comedy, a sense that even when faced with the most difficult or prejudiced situation, he can escape with a quick gibe. He has several stories about confrontations with homophobes, including one on a subway and another on Twitter, but they end with his defeating them with his quick wit.
When discussing his father’s lashing out after learning his son was gay, Young-White does not treat the event as overly dramatic. In his telling, he doesn’t return fire or build up the significance of the exchange. Instead, his response to his father is more unexpected, a kind of glib irritation: “You’re being such a queen right now,” he tells his dad, in a sing-songy voice. “This is kind of my moment.”
It certainly is.