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Colin Jost charms parents and students alike with a solid set

I’ll admit, I’m not the biggest Colin Jost fan. Since gaining a spot on Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update” in 2014, Jost has struggled to exude the charisma so many comedians have so easily (looking at you, Kate McKinnon). There’s nothing particularly offensive about Jost, but nothing particularly funny, either. In the past few years and with the help of co-anchor Michael Che, “Weekend Update” has improved a lot, but the show hasn’t exactly fixed the problem of Jost’s stage presence.

Comedian Colin Jost, of SNL’s Weekend Update, performed for a crowd of over 700.

However, out from behind his desk at the Spingold Theater, Jost really came alive as a comic. Instead of being stuck in a suit and now able to move around the stage, Jost seemed much less wooden. It was refreshing and surprising, and his hour-long set ended up being really good. One of the reasons Jost succeeded was that he knew his audience: The parents and students of Brandeis University, nearly 750 of them, packed into the sold out show.

This is a conundrum for a comedian for a few reasons. First of all, you’re at Brandeis, which means your audience isn’t likely to enjoy politically incorrect material. Take for example the person sitting next to me, who loudly whispered that Puerto Rico wasn’t a country after Jost started a bit about traveling during vacations (I’m sure he knows, you know?). On top of that, some students are there with their parents, which means anything too raunchy is going to get awkward. Maybe parents would laugh if their kids weren’t with them (and vice versa), but nobody really wants to laugh at a bunch of dick jokes with their dad sitting next to them.

To his credit, a lot of Jost’s material was both student and parent friendly. He opened by reading through some Brandeis “fun facts,” which was good, but would have been better if he hadn’t been reading off his phone. There were, however, a few jokes about the privilege of Brandeis students that were fantastic, especially one about how real life will be a breeze after getting through the stressful housing lottery process. I also really appreciated his diagnosis of Louis D. Brandeis as “Larry David with hair.” The opener made the set personal, and even though Jost isn’t a Brandeis expert, a lot of what Jost said resonated with the crowd.

His set as a whole covered three areas pretty thoroughly: politics, college life and longer-form stories. Obviously, the former is his forte, considering his “Weekend Update” tenure. His Trump material worked, even though a bit about his “Jedi Mind Tricks” wasn’t particularly groundbreaking. Trump, Jost explains, has a way of convincing people what they saw never happened (think Trump mocking a disabled reporter, later to claim it never happened at all).

In the end, the real standouts were two stories he told about being high on a date (and calling his parents) and trying to buy snacks at a supermarket. The image of the generally-robotic Jost inebriated was funny in itself. What the set really convinced me of is that Jost is a better comic when he can do longer, more indepth bits, instead of the rapid-fire style of “Weekend Update.” I left the show interested in watching a real Colin Jost standup special, which I didn’t expect when I walked into Spingold.

The event wasn’t flawless. Case in point: the warm up comedian. It was pretty impressive how much the audience did not like our opener, up-and-coming comic Mike Recine. Recine’s set wasn’t objectively horrendous, but it was awful for the Family Weekend crowd. Between his vulgar language (alienating parents) and his not exactly progressive bits (alienating students), the crowd couldn’t wait for him to bring on Jost. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not bad for a comedian to make their audience feel uncomfortable, but Recine couldn’t find the catharsis in these moments to earn the audience’s affection, or even their laughter. Unfortunately, Recine ended up doing a whole 20 minutes, which is just way too long for an opener, especially when the crowd was done by the 10 minute mark. The only silver lining was that Recine could tell how much he was bombing, and persevered through it, which I at least found a little entertaining. Recine will actually be back on campus in two weeks, and I kind of can’t wait to see how he does with an audience of exclusively students.

While the opener flopped, Jost was really something. Jost closed his set talking about his frustration watching an “Update” rerun with the closed captioning saying that one of his jokes got “mild laughter,” according to the captions. I’d love to see the relaxed, engaged Jost we saw at Brandeis make an appearance on “Update.” He’d probably do better than “mild laughter.”

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