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The Netflix series The Standups is officially rated TV-MA, for “mature audiences.” For those unfamiliar with the TV and streaming rating system, that’s essentially like an R rating for movies. So it’s ironic there’s nothing in the show’s first episode, featuring comedian Nate Bargatze, that would warrant so much as a PG-13. In fact, without a single instance of even mild profanity, and only one joke that trades on potty humor, his set would likely struggle to rate a PG.
An act as clean as Bargatze’s is certainly unusual in the world of mainstream comedy clubs and tours, but it’s not surprising that Netflix picked the Tennessee native to kick off its stand-up series. After back-to-back wins at the New York and Boston comedy festivals led to appearances on Conan O’Brien and The Tonight Show, industry taste-makers like Esquire and Rolling Stone started dubbing him the hottest new thing in stand-up.
As a lifelong stand-up fan who started curating my favorites list with more discernment once I became a Christian, I still remember the thrill of discovering Jim Gaffigan and Brian Regan back in the early 2000s. But the acts I could unequivocally embrace since then have been few and far between. So, notwithstanding a joke or two about embarrassing antics while overimbibing, my discovery of Bargatze a few months ago felt like a gift from heaven. His appeal, though, took on a hometown hero dimension after a deep dive into Google revealed he also happens to be a fellow traveler to the Celestial City.
Though it doesn’t feature much in his jokes, Bargatze has referenced his Christianity from the stage. He’s also given several interviews where he talks about how fortunate he feels in his Southern Baptist upbringing and how bereft he was when his friend and fellow comic Pete Holmes abandoned the faith of their youth. In contrast to Holmes, Bargatze says success and exposure to a more agnostic urban culture led him to deeper conviction that the Bible is true. In a strange way, the relative innocence of his subject matter seems to have played a role in his success with big-city, raunch-hardened crowds. As an arms race to edgier and edgier material rages on, Bargatze’s soft-spoken, Bible Belt restraint is so rare it’s become downright radical.
Something about Bargatze’s laid-back style is universally appealing. On the one hand, his approach is far from the slightly corny style a lot of Christian headliners who play at churches tend to have. On the other, his countercultural approach to a topic like Donald Trump subtly challenges the outlook of coastal audiences who are now conditioned to expect presidential-bashing screeds posing as comedy. Bargatze’s punch lines take everyone a little by surprise, allowing him to achieve the minor miracle of giving everyone—right, left, believer, nonbeliever—something to laugh at.
TV viewers may get to enjoy more of Bargatze in the future as ABC recently picked up a sitcom pilot based on his life with his wife, daughter, and extended family in Tennessee. Until then, you can catch his Standups episode on Netflix, his Comedy Central special on Amazon, and his new live act on his current tour at clubs across the country. Bargatze’s brand of dry, low-key humor may be just the thing a frazzled-out family could use to decompress from the holiday stress this Christmas.