Many of Adam Sandler’s comedy peers have not aged gracefully. Fellow SNL alum Chris Rock declared that he won’t perform on college campuses for fear that his humor will offend overly sensitive young audiences. Veteran comic Jerry Seinfeld joins him in this stand. And while that strategy has always been good for riling up the anti-PC crusaders, it’s also a huge cop-out. After all, as John Mulaney recently pointed out, most universities couldn’t afford the fees of A-listers like them, anyway. What’s more likely happening, whether or not Rock and Seinfeld will admit it, is that a new generation has come up from behind them—one they don’t fully understand—and they feel the cold hand of irrelevance tapping them on the shoulder.
Regardless of the sharpness of their jokes, comedians like Seinfeld and Rock seem like cultural relics in 2018. It’s not that their routines and source material are dated; it’s that the entire vehicle of standup comedy is outdated. In the short attention-spanned era that rewards ten-second Snapchat stories, viral YouTube fail videos, and Spongebob reaction gifs, the notion of asking a modern audience to sit for an hour-long standup special might as well be asking them to read the DSM-5 cover to cover.
For a while, it seemed like the 52-year-old Sandler had no interest in stepping into the modern age either, often trying to jam square comedy pegs into round holes with one abysmal movie after another as part of his seemingly endless Netflix deal. But on his new Netflix special, 100% Fresh, Sandler proves that not only does he understand how the internet generation’s brains work, he’s incredibly good at feeding them what they want.
The special starts with a series of quick, inane observations, rambling mini-stories, and little half-songs with minimal instrumental accompaniment. A diddy about smothering his grandma’s roommate here, a bit about heated toilet seats there. Most of these barely clock in at a minute and each is filmed at a different location in front of a live audience. It all feels like an introduction that goes on forever, and it’s only about ten minutes in that the realization sets in: This isn’t the prelude to the special; this is the special. There is no main entree, just a heap of loose parts strung together for 73 minutes. Most of 100% Fresh’s brief bits could fit into an Instagram video, and that’s the point. Sandler is playing by the internet’s rules and making it work to his advantage.
It’d be a stretch to say Sandler has lowered himself to cater to the reductive internet age that’s produced Logan Paul and Bhad Bhabie. After all, the guy built his career on low-brow premises like lighting bags of dog shit on fire and pissing his pants. But on 100% Fresh, he’s managed to take the anarchic nature and slacker approach of his early movies and albums and retrofit the humor for modern times, usually by trimming it down to the bare essentials. In the early 90s, Sandler might’ve committed four minutes to something like “The Thanksgiving Song,” which, in retrospect, was probably two minutes more than the bit merited. But in 2018, Sandler often gets his gag across in just one verse and abruptly cuts it off after doing so. One of the special’s songs is a mere 15 seconds and its only lyrics are “Oh no, god no, my mother’s friend has a son who just moved to Hollywood and she asked me to help him.” It’s the kind of comedy the internet was built for—an endless series of short, dumb non sequiturs. Watching the fast-cut special feels like reading through Twitter’s infinite scroll of 280-character missives.
After an hour of catering to the audience’s lizard brains, Sandler indulges himself by culminating the show with its longest segment, a surprisingly heartfelt musical tribute to his late friend, Chris Farley. From there, he closes things out with a version of his “Grow Old With You” song from 1998’s The Wedding Singer, but adapts it to be a retrospective look at his life and career. “And this goes for all of you guys here tonight,” Sandler concludes to a cheering crowd as scenes from his movies play in the background. “Thanks for growing old with me.” Seeing Sandler’s entire filmography flash over the course of a few seconds is a sobering reminder of how much bad we as viewers have had to take with the good over the years, but also how brilliantly the bright spots shine through.
100% Fresh’s title is its own sort of self-aware retrospective, a reference to the combative relationship Sandler’s work has had with critics over the years, resulting in dreadful Rotten Tomatoes scores. Although Sandler has been praised for sporadically turning out strong performances for other filmmakers—Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love, Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories, and, from the early looks of it, the forthcoming Safdie brothers movie Uncut Gems—his own films have been treated like critical punching bags. Grown Ups 2, his lightly scripted ensemble family comedy, for example, has a seven percent fresh rating. The Cobbler, a movie about a magic cobbling machine that lets him assume the bodies of people whose shoes he wears (leading to a string of racist crimes), fares slightly better with a nine percent rating. And The Ridiculous 6, whose Native American cast members famously walked off the project in protest, enjoys a big, fat zero.
It’s doubtful Sandler himself would even defend some of these works. Most of them were just paid opportunities to hang out with, and cut paychecks for, his otherwise unemployable friends. He even once “joked” to Jimmy Kimmel that he chooses film locations based on where he wants to take his family on vacation. But by calling this one 100% Fresh, Sandler is winking to his critics, responding to decades of harsh reviews with an undeniably good special, one where he reminds the world that behind years of box office droll is an effortlessly gifted comic who can still produce laughs in any era. Or, to put it in terms the internet might understand: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
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