Comedy is tragedy plus time. Fuck that. There’s no time for time. Ronald Kilmartin passed away March 2, 2014. He battled cancer and cancer is a motherfucker. Over ten days in hospice—“here, you do it”—and the funeral, his daughter, comedian Laurie Kilmartin, documented the ordeal. In real time. Over Twitter.
7 yo son asked how Grandpa got lung cancer. I said, “Well, he quit a long time ago, but for many many years, Grandpa played Minecraft.”
— Laurie Kilmartin (@anylaurie16) February 26, 2014
Unable to escape her enormous grief and unwilling to leave her father for stage time, Laurie turned Twitter into an open mic, she joked. Some tweets played vanity for gallows humor, some were catty and wauling, some struck a benevolent irreverence. With her doting mother, nonplussed son and her defiant self (and others), Kilmartin’s world provided heart breaking and hilarious vignettes (in 140 characters or less).
45 Jokes About My Dead Dad, recently released on Seeso, is based on these tweets. No false advertising, no misleading, no misnomer. Save for a counter in the corner to confirm “yes, that was a joke” and “yes, that was about her dead dad”, the special delivers on its namesake.
And a variety of jokes too. Dry wit, dark humor, political barbs, pop culture references, dick jokes, tit jokes, religious jokes, racial jokes, one-liners, callbacks. Ideas and events from that time are elaborated, embellished, but never sanitized. Colorful word choice like her father’s tumor-riddled body looking like a “sack of apples”, or morphine policies paint the vivid indignation. It even begins with a knock knock! Hello! 45 Jokes is masterful and whole.
It’s visually inspired. There’s novel, noteworthy technique. Something so personal and deliberate allows, perhaps in difference, some cinematic flourishes.
It might be the first comedy special with a cold open: a Tarantino-styled wrap around to the first joke. Might be the first comedy special that, as both a documentary about family, funny and a social media happening as well as a solid hour of stand-up. Either could live independently but thrives collected. 45 Jokes alludes to a creative process, joke shorthand on color-coordinated index cards, which also serves as its title sequence. Laurie, dressed in black, enveloped in darkness, glowing in mourning feels thematic and poetic.
The circumstances of 45 Jokes are tragic. That this is Laurie Kilmartin’s first hour special, after nearly 30 years of stand-up, is criminal. Conan O’Brien and Patton Oswalt, comedy royalty in their own right, appear in the special as advocates and for context. As great as either may be, as familiar with comedy’s power and with the comic in question as they are, their commentary gives credence to an uniquely exceptional comedian.
Laurie Kilmartin is a pointed, prolific performer. She’s mined her experience throughout her career but never lingers. There aren’t any catchphrases or “give me my sitcom” scenarios. Once she’s done, she’s done. This might leave something to interpretation or to the imagination. She’s crafted so many great jokes about her family, specifically about the dynamic with her mother and her son; these are just the ones most relevant to the titular dead father. While 45 Jokes doesn’t require the full backstory, the special pairs well with Kilmartin’s album Five Minutes to Myself and her podcast The Jackie and Laurie Show, for a richness, a sweetness that familiarizes the acerbic sentiment.
Emotions are high and displayed in earnest. Laurie’s tears, her mother’s resignation, her sister’s gratitude are crushing, affecting. Kilmartin’s catharsis, on stage and off, is an incomplete process. She’s “done with death” but her father still permeates. You too may have loss someone and may be sensitive to stark, crass glibness. That’s okay. I’m sorry. It might be hard to handle but 45 Jokes About My Dead Dad is well worth it.
Artist: Laurie Kilmartin (Conan, Last Comic Standing)
Recorded: October 17th and 18th. Lyric Theater in Los Angeles, CA.
Length: 62 Minutes
Features: uncomfortable crowd work, poignant interviews, childhood photographs, home movies, chronic illness chronicled, great comedy, tears
Avoid: if you’re sensitive to jokes about cancer, if you think a child must honor *both* their mother and father, if you want 45 jokes about an alive dad