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Recap / The Twilight Zone (2019) S1 E1 "The Comedian"

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"Once they connect to it, it's theirs. And once it's theirs, that shit is gone forever."
Jordan Peele: Samir Wassan is an artist of great principle, a man who refuses to compromise his beliefs for a cheap joke. But tonight, he felt the rush of the limelight for the first time. Now, he'll have to decide what really matters to him when the laughter stops. And how much he's willing to give... to the Twilight Zone.

Samir (Kumail Nanjiani) is a political comedian who never gets a laugh. His fellow comedians chide him for not being "funny" and trying to infuse meaning into his work. Things change when he encounters the comedian J.C. Wheeler (Tracy Morgan) and gives him advice in how to gain the fame and attention he desires, which comes with a dangerous effect.

Beware of spoilers below!

Tropes for this episode include:

  • Asshole Victim: Once Samir realizes what's happening, he focuses on people who "deserve" to be gone. Of course, he screws it up.
  • As You Know: Some of the dialogue regarding reality being warped sounds like this, with Samir pointing out various consequences rather than simply letting the audience notice them.
  • Bait-and-Switch: How Samir's final routine begins. Detailed under Wham Line.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Samir wishes he were funny to get money. His wish comes true at a grave cost: it makes him rich, popular and beloved but it also reduced his girlfriend Rena to a waitress because he erased the man who helped make Rena a lawyer.
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  • Book-Ends: The episode opens on a mural of figures decorated on a wall in the nightclub. It ends focusing on the same mural, only with Samir added to it.
  • But Not Too Gay: Didi, Samir's friend and comic rival, casually mentions that she's a lesbian ("If I was into guys..."), but beyond a brief moment of checking Rena out at the end of the episode, she doesn't get any opportunities to show it.
  • Butterfly of Doom: Removing people from existence causes Samir's present to change. By removing a drunkard comedian who killed a mother and child in a car accident, the accident never happened. By erasing Rena's law school mentor, he robs her of the chance to finish law school, which in turn makes them much harder up for money, since she works part-time at a diner.
  • Deal with the Devil: Implied after Samir talks to the enigmatic J.C. Wheeler.
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  • Disproportionate Retribution: Samir's final act begins like this, with him calling out (and erasing from existence) anyone who has ever upset him, including his dentist, several ex-girlfriends, a neighbor's entire family, and a school mate who wouldn't share a lunch with him.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Some real life comedians have called the episode a very apt metaphor for what the job is really like, and how the second you put someone from your life in your act, the clock is ticking on your relationship with them, as they’ll never again fully be able to trust that anything they say or do won’t suffer a public mocking.
  • Didn't Think This Through: Samir failed to consider how erasing someone critically important to Rena's career would impact her life and their relationship.
  • Downer Ending: Samir on realizing he has erased actual people and lives erases himself onstage, with no one the wiser.
  • Enemies List: Once he realizes he can wipe people out of existence by using them in his routine, Samir makes one to exact revenge on people who've wronged him over the years or otherwise deserve to be erased in his eyes.
  • Equivalent Exchange: Samir can get a laugh when he relates a story about someone he knows, but after the set they're Ret Gone.
  • Foreshadowing: During the first iteration of his "Second Amendment" bit, Samir points out that 11% might not sound like a lot until one considers what would happen to a plane that only makes it 89% of the way to its destination. The plot of the next episode is about an airplane that may not make it to its destination.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: While Samir is checking his phone for any sign of Deven after his act, his contacts list includes characters from the original series, such as James Embry and Al Denton.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Samir goes from an unskilled and dull speaker of politics to a headline-making comedian who can make masses laugh at the cost of erasing people from existence.
  • God in Human Form: Implied. J.C. Wheeler is clearly no ordinary comedian, being fully aware of the destructive power Samir wields. Yet he is also a (former) world-famous comedian, given how the other characters talk about him in hushed tones and reverent voices. Did we just see Cthulhu on tour?
  • Gone Horribly Right: Samir making his comedy a lot more offensive and aimed towards specific people has deadly effects. On a lesser note, Samir is now able to make his audience laugh so hard one woman falls off her chair spraying her champagne.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Samir towards Rena's mentor. In true Twilight Zone fashion, it bites him in the ass.
  • Here We Go Again!: After Samir wipes himself from existence, Didi stumbles upon J.C. and asks him for pointers, suggesting the whole ordeal will befall her this time.
  • Heroic Suicide: This is essentially what Samir does to himself at the end, undoing his erasing other people earlier.
  • How Do I Shot Web?: Samir slowly has to learn his power and how it works.
  • Humor Dissonance: Invoked and lampshaded; Samir doesn't understand why a fellow humorist accused of murder is popular with the crowd, but his relevant stuff gets no laughs.
  • Informed Ability: After making his deal with J.C. Wheeler, Samir's routine invokes roars of laughter from his audience — even though he's typically doing nothing more than yelling about and insulting the subjects of his ire. Justified given the source of his "comedic" skill.
  • Informed Flaw: Samir's stand-up initially is described as "not funny" by a fellow comedian who tells him he's too heavy-handed about politics. Except that's not that much different from the usual routine of his actor, Kumail Nanjiani, which is usually hilarious. To be fair, what we see of Samir's act isn't all that impressive, given his stilted delivery and apparent fixation on the Second Amendment.
  • Insane Troll Logic: Samir's attempts to justify his vanishing people sounds a lot like this—since you can only kill someone who's alive, making someone never be alive period isn't the same thing, right? J.C. Wheeler later does the same, claiming that murder is only murder if there are "crying moms" to mourn the dead.
  • Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: Erasing Didi seems to be this moment for Samir. He clearly debates doing it onstage, but eventually goes for it, and then has a complete breakdown onstage, using his power to eradicate every person he can think of who has ever slighted him. Then the ending subverts the trope, as he ultimately chooses not to remove Rena from reality, instead choosing to delete himself.
  • Kill 'Em All: Samir's final routine has vibes of this—he starts shouting out names at a breakneck pace, much to the audience's delight. Since every name he mentions means someone vanishes...
  • Louis Cypher: A variation. YouTube commenters have noticed that the mysterious J.C. Wheeler, with his love of smoking, brimmed hat, and offers of fame and fortune in exchange for one's soul, is likely an incarnation of the vodou loa Papa Legba.
  • Magic A Is Magic A: The person Samir uses in his routine only gets him a warm reception (and subsequently erased from existence) if they have a personal relation to him. He tries using the president as a setup for one of his acts, but he gets the same blasé reaction from the audience as his political humor. This is also the least he has to do, he can immediately use hecklers for material just by using their names and something about them to spin into a set. It also seems to work any time he mentions someone on stage, which he seems to realize when he goes on after Didi and urges the audience to keep applauding after mentioning her to keep her from disappearing.
  • Metaphorically True: Played With. After one of Samir's erasures, a fan tells him that "[He] really killed it". Not as much killed, but erased from existing to begin with.
  • Mic Drop: How Samir's last routine ends as a result of erasing himself.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Samir enviously erases Rena's law school mentor...which means that Rena herself wasn't able to complete her degree and now works in a diner. His reaction to her going on her shift screams this trope.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • The name "James Embry" is seen on the wall of the green room which is name of the main character in "King Nine Will Not Return". It's also one of the names on Samir's contact list in his phone; other names include Al Denton (the main character of "Mr. Denton on Doomsday"), Cadwallader ("Escape Clause"), and James Corry ("The Lonely").
    • The flashing "Franklin" sign at the bus stop references Franklin Gibbs, the unfortunate victim of "The Fever", who was haunted by a slot machine that repeated his name while flashing lights at him.
    • Willie the Dummy from "The Dummy" is seen in the background of one shot.
    • Samir only getting laughter from the audience when he engages in personal stories evokes "Take My Life, Please!".
    • At the bar, "Kanamit Lager" can be seen; it is named after the aliens from "To Serve Man".
  • Nothing Is Scarier: One of the cornerstones of the episode. Many of the scares come when the camera cuts to where someone was standing or sitting seconds before Samir said their name...and the space is now empty.
  • Not in Front of the Kid: Samir tries to get Didi to stop swearing in front of his girlfriend's nephew. It doesn't work.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Rena stops Samir's final Disproportionate Retribution act by pointing out that he's not being funny or relevant, he's just hurting people because he can.
    Rena: "It's just names, Samir. I don't even know who these people are. People who wronged you, people you don't like. Your act is just you being superior to other people. Taking them down."
  • Reset Button: In-Universe. Samir erasing himself means that he never gained the power to eradicate people to begin with, restoring everyone that he took away.
  • Ret Gone: What Samir does to people with his routines. All photos disappear of the vanished person whether digital or physical, other characters say they don't know who Samir is talking about, and whatever actions that have affected the other characters have a ripple effect in the world.
  • Ripple Effect-Proof Memory: Even though everyone else in the world completely forgets the people Samir mentions in his routines, he himself doesn't. It's later revealed that J.C. Wheeler doesn't, either—but then, he doesn't exactly seem human.
  • Rousseau Was Right: Zigzagged throughout the episode. When Samir discovers his power, he's determined to only erase people who "deserve it," like a rival comic who killed a mother and her baby in a drunk driving accident. Then the trope is subverted when envy and paranoia take over, and he begins vanishing people that he sees as a threat, including his girlfriend's law school mentor and Didi, his chief comic competition. He then follows it by removing everyone who has ever upset him in any way. Then the ending plays it straight, with Samir deciding to use himself as comic fodder rather than hurt anyone else.
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: Samir initially has this attitude; he believes infusing humor with meaning is what makes the humor matter.
  • Self-Deprecation: Samir erases himself by insulting himself last, claiming he would be nobody without the audience. He needs the audience and their money and support to be someone.
  • Set Right What Once Went Wrong: Samir's ultimate solution is to erase himself. Since he never existed, he never erased any of the other people.
  • Shout-Out: Samir appearing on the painting of an audience at the end of the episode echoes the end of The Shining. Samir's last routine also mentions a number of people named "Torrance".
  • Snap Back: Once Samir erases himself, everyone else he had erased comes back.
  • Tough Room: Samir's jokes about the Second Amendment fall flat, even though his actor has done similar routines to a much more appreciative audience in real life. The fact he always uses the same "well regulated" joke in each of his acts may have something to do with it.
  • Twofer Token Minority: Didi is a rare triple minority—a lesbian black woman.
  • Wham Line: Just when it seems Samir has gone much too far and is about to erase Rena, this happens.
    Samir: Tonight, I want to talk to you about someone I've known a very long time. Clever. Lovable, in a lot of ways. Someone who you think would be a good person who has a lot to offer the world. Ladies and gentlemen, tonight, I want to talk to you about... myself.
  • Writing Around Trademarks: Didi and Samir measure their success in how many "followers" they get online in general, rather than naming specific sites. It's justified somewhat, in that many sites—from Instagram to Twitter—use the term "follower."

Jordan Peele: Samir Wassan learned the hard way that sometimes getting everything you want means losing everything you loved, and after finally finding himself on the verge of becoming somebody, he chose instead to once again be a nobody. In the end, Samir's final encore is a show one can only buy a ticket to... in the Twilight Zone.

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