I Think You Should Watch ‘I Think You Should Leave’
'I Think You Should Leave' isn’t for everybody. But it’s the best sketch comedy show on television.
Fifty-three seconds into Season 2 of I Think You Should Leave (ITYSL), Tim Robinson—the show’s star and co-creator, alongside Zach Kanin—is sitting around a boardroom table, trying to discreetly suck a jumbo hot dog out of his jacket sleeve. It only gets weirder from there.
But in today’s reality—two billionaires are racing each other to space on their private rockets, one in five Americans refuse to get life-saving vaccines against a virus that has killed more than half a million of their countrymen, a game show host just wrapped up a stint as president—humor that fails to stretch absurdity to its breaking point doesn’t much move the needle.
When Robinson’s ITYSL debuted on Netflix in April 2019, it was an oasis in a sketch comedy desert. Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim’s Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! ended in 2010, and Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele’s Key & Peele had been off the air nearly four years. Saturday Night Live was still around, but the Trump era was not kind to it: Most episodes—with a few exceptions—devolved into little more than a laugh track set to celebrities reenacting the nightly news.
“Trump is a bad subject for comedy,” Jesse David Fox wrote for Vulture. “He’s shallow and played out.” That was in 2017.
ITYSL avoids these pitfalls by simply not going there. None of the show’s humor is topical; most of the laughs come from placing ridiculous characters into everyday situations and letting the camera roll as things careen wildly out of control.
In the aforementioned workplace sketch, Robinson’s Pat was so upset a meeting got scheduled over his lunch break that he snuck his meal—one plain, boiled hot dog—into his blazer, and, thinking none of his colleagues could notice, scarfed it down until he began choking. Later in the season, we get an infomercial for the Carber Hot Dog Vacuum, an invention from the since-fired Pat aimed at helping others avoid the same, incredibly specific issue he ran into. “You can’t skip lunch,” he says, exasperated. “You just can’t.”
If there’s one hallmark of Robinson’s characters that sets ITYSL apart, it’s their commitment to the bit. In most sketches, the protagonist is triggered by an inconsequential slight, and immediately presented with multiple opportunities to deescalate the situation. They never take the offramp, opting instead for unabashed incredulity and indignation.
A classic scene from the show’s first season features an overly confident Robinson refusing to concede in a job interview that he accidentally pulled on a “push” door, straining for several minutes until the wood splinters and the hinges snap. In another, Robinson’s character demands a friend give him a gift receipt to prove his appreciation of a birthday present. “If you love it as much as you say you do,” he yells, “then it shouldn’t be a problem if I take the receipt back.” He then eats the piece of paper, just to be sure.
At the heart of Robinson’s brand of comedy is deep-seated social anxiety. “There are tons of ways people will try to manipulate themselves or lie, or different tactics they’ll use to save themselves from being embarrassed or to save themselves from being the joke,” ITYSL’s creator told GQin an interview last week. “We find ourselves fascinated with people digging themselves in holes to save face on something small that ended up making themselves look stupider.”
The gambit doesn’t always work—a sketch in the third episode about a man (John Early) tripling down on refusing to pay for a dinner provides all of the customary ITYSL awkwardness with few of the laughs—but the show’s batting average is remarkably high. And with just six 15-minute episodes in the season, it has to be.
The reach of these six episodes will extend far beyond the confines of your Netflix queue. Whether you watched season one or not, you’re likely familiar with 81-year-old actor Ruben Rabasa’s “Focus Group Man,” or the We’re All Trying To Find The Guy Who Did This guy. ITYSL works as a sketch comedy show; it may work even better as a meme source. Don’t be surprised if characters like Karl Havoc, Dan Flashes, and Jamie Taco—or concepts like sloppy steaks, Coffin Flop, and Calico Cut Pants—start showing up on your social media feeds in the coming days.