Real life is often crazier than fiction, and humor pokes fun at our daily lives. Netflix and Amazon seem to have never-ending lists of documentaries and stand-up comedy, but here are a few worthwhile recommendations that have lifted my spirits during the pandemic.
In the Amazon documentary “Icarus,” an amateur U.S. cyclist experiments with performance-enhancing drugs to see if they will improve his cycling. During this experiment, he finds himself caught in the middle of the Russian doping scandal which caused that country’s ban in the Olympics. If you like this, try “Murder Ball” (Amazon), which follows the U.S. Paralympic rugby team as they compete to win the Paralympic games.
Less well known, but a must see for runners, is the “Barkley Marathon” (Amazon), a documentary that follows runners in this obscure, hard to enter, ultra-marathon. Runners, chosen from a pool of applicants by the organizer of the race, tackle this course that mocks the failed prison escape of James Earl Ray from Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary in 1977. Compared to Ray’s 8 miles in 54-hour escape attempt, these runners run nearly 100 miles through Tennessee, during the day and night, through hilly, forested, grueling terrain. It is dubbed “the race that eats its young,” and many years yield no victors.
“Song Exploder” (Netflix), based on the popular podcast, takes hit songs from musical artists like Dua Lipa, Alessia Keys, and Lin-Manuel Miranda, then breaks them down. In bite-sized episodes, artists explain the making of and meaning behind our favorite songs. For a look into the music-making process, the many collaborators involved in producing a hit, and ear candy you did not notice before, this is the documentary series that redefines old classics and introduces new favorites.
Ever heard of cheese-rolling? I had not until I watched “We Are the Champions” (Netflix) which also follows chili eating, hair styling, yo-yo slinging, frog-jumping, and dog dancing competitions that redefine what it means to compete, and spotlight unexpected athletes and passionate artists.
Across the world in Egypt, an excavation team plows through dig sites in a race against time to discover artifacts and tombs in “Secrets of the Saqqara Tomb” (Netflix). Dangling between finding enough discoveries to get funding to continue the dig and the meticulous, careful work that the preservation of ancient artifacts demand, the team is challenged with deciphering the mystery behind the potentially tampered tomb of Wahtye and what happened to his family over 2,000 years ago.
In the comedy special “Not Normal” (Netflix), Wanda Sykes gives a hilarious, provocative, thought-provoking performance that ranges from family life and reality TV to politics and racism.
For fans of Jerry Seinfeld, check out “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” (Netflix), in which he drives famous guests and comedians around in unique cars (like a rare Italian sports car or a DeLorean) to get coffee. In the six collections so far, Seinfeld has taken many people including Barack Obama, Alec Baldwin, Sarah Silverman, and Eddie Murphy for a drive in cars he thinks personifies them.
If stand-up comedy draws you in like it did for me, check out comic Jim Gaffigan for clean observational comedy, Sarah Silverman for biting satire that unapologetically tackles controversial issues, and Hannah Gadsby for outlandish parody inspired by her training as an art major.
In a time where real life is riddled with divided politics and an uncertain future, comedy and documentaries each offer a new lens through which to consider the world.
Grace Pignolo is a senior at Mayo High School. Send comments on teen columns to Jeff Pieters, email@example.com.