Strike a pose! Meet John Early, the new face of comedy
Meet John Early, the anti-Lena Dunham whose joyful comedy marks a departure from selfabsorbed millennial humour, says Harriet Gibsone
In one of the final episodes of subversive murder mystery series Search Party, John Early’s fantastically vainglorious character Elliott has an epiphany. He sits at the desk of his book publisher and addresses a room of staff who are impatiently waiting for a first draft of his autobiography. “Here’s the truth. I don’t want to work. I don’t like working. Work sucks,” he declares after a long, meditative sigh. “Working feels bad and I don’t ever want to work one more day in my entire life. Oh my God, it feels so good to say that!” Combined with his ridiculously contrarian outfit – a gaudy striped smock, a cream Sherlock cap and a pair of patterned swimming trunks – Elliott exudes the much-examined “millennial malaise”. A man exhausted by life, by expectations. Even the prospect of a ghostwritten book about his own life is a cruel distraction from the relaxation he believes he is entitled to.
Early himself is far from the insolent fool he’s mastered so dexterously, even if the role was imagined by Search Party writers Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers with him specifically in mind. Elliott follows a succession of perversely entertaining performances from the standup and actor: cut-throat, body-rolling, amateur thespian Logan in Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later; the emotionally fraught, control-freak dinner party host in Netflix’s The Characters; the string of surreal, fame-hungry outliers in his Vimeo series 555; his short but scene-stealing appearances in Broad City, High Maintenance, 30 Rock and Judd Apatow’s Love. At a time when so much modern comedy is overwhelmed by coy stillness and naturalism (the most high-profile and influential example being
Girls), Early’s cameos are bursts of joyful, elastic facial expressions and elaborate dance moves, an energy that follows in the footsteps of Amy Poehler and Kristen Wiig. It is because of his fresh approach to humour that the cult online comic, and now ever burgeoning mainstream presence, ushers in a new era of TV comedy. He is a reaction against the drifting mood that has engulfed screens for the past decade, and is, as Esquire neatly put it, “comedy’s secret weapon”.
“In my 20s it was the dawn of the web series,” says a subdued Early over Skype from his apartment in LA. “I was watching people my age make mumblecore: gentle, gutless indie stuff with elegant framing and people with messy buns being like: ‘Hmm, I don’t know what to do today. I’m just going to eat a cupcake?’ That’s still happening today and it shocks me. There’s just a real lack of emotion in the content that
Looking good: Search Party; (top) John Early and Kate Berlant