When Netflix announced earlier this year that they had tapped comedian Michelle Wolf for a new weekly series, even they probably had no idea what they had on their hands.
At that point, Wolf, a former contributor on both Late Night with Seth Meyers and The Daily Show, had received rave reviews for her debut HBO stand-up special Nice Lady, but she was hardly a household name.
Three months later, everything has changed.
A fiery, no-holds-barred set at the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner in April thrust Wolf into the center of the political media conversation, with journalists like The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman condemning her for going too far in her criticism of Trump press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and comedians like Judd Apatow and Jimmy Kimmel coming to her vigorous defense.
On the first episode of her new weekly show, titled The Break, Wolf seemed ready to move past the controversy, but also evidently felt she had no choice but to address it as well—on her own terms.
“Do women have to support other women?” Wolf asked midway through the show during a segment ironically titled “Sports Smash.” “No, of course not. If we did, Hillary would be president and I don’t think she is.”
For another example, Wolf turned to the nomination of Gina Haspel as the first female CIA director. “Who knew you could waterboard a glass ceiling until it broke?” she joked. Then she shared a tweet about Haspel from her “best friend,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who labeled any Democrat who supports “women’s empowerment” but opposed Haspel a “hypocrite.”
“Well if anyone’s an expert on hypocrites, it’s Sarah Huckabee Sanders,” Wolf said. “And for the record, that was not a looks-based joke,” she added, referencing the main complaint against her WHCD speech. “That was about her ugly personality.” To hammer the point home, Wolf added, “She has the Mario Batali of personalities.”
“Look, there’s nothing anti-feminist about not supporting certain women,” Wolf said, before listing, in ESPN fashion, the top five women she’s not supporting right now, including MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle, who she called out for rolling her eyes too much, as well as Camille Cosby for standing by her husband. Coming in at number two was NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch. “The only adult I’ve seen this humiliated by teenagers is me on the subway,” she joked. In conclusion, Wolf cracked that criticizing women doesn’t make her anti-feminist, it just makes her a “bitch.”
In the 10-minute stand-up set that opened the show, Wolf also defended her right to make jokes about whatever she wants, telling her audience, “The point is, we’re all going to die. So until then, we might as well laugh. And laugh at everything and everyone.”
To make her point, Wolf took on some new high profile targets. “Oprah, you’re not so special,” she said. “I always eat bread everyday.” To Elon Musk, she joked, “You call yourself an inventor? Then invent yourself a girlfriend closer to your own age.”
From there, Wolf moved on to talk about issues like the NFL’s new rule that says players can only protest the National Anthem from the locker room. “I believe it was Martin Luther King Jr. who said, ‘The best protests are the ones no one can see,’” she joked. Wolf added that addressing the national anthem issue while ignoring everything else that plagues professional football “is like making sure JFK was wearing his seatbelt.”
And despite being the first “late-night” show to air since Harvey Weinstein was finally arrested on Friday, Wolf declined to comment on his creepy, smiling perp walk—given that her show taped on Thursday—instead dedicating a few minutes to the NYPD’s latest investigation into chef Mario Batali, which she joked was “mostly to find his neck.” The final third of this week’s premiere found Wolf reuniting with her former Late Night colleague Amber Ruffin to talk frankly and hilariously about why they don’t want to have kids.
During a recent appearance on The View, Wolf vowed that she would not be shying away from political comedy on her new show and would continue to “make fun of people” in the Trump administration as she did during the WHCD. “I’m never going to do like a deep dive on net neutrality or anything like that,” she added, a light dig at another Daily Show alum who hosts his own weekly show on HBO.
Wolf reiterated this intention in her monologue, stressing that she wants The Break to be a literal “break” from the news. “I’m not going to try to teach you anything or discuss political policy with you,” she said. “I guess I’m sort of like a cable news show in that way.”
Instead, with a mix of stand-up, sketches and sharp political commentary, The Break feels like a smarter version of Comedy Central’s Inside Amy Schumer, which has now been off the air for almost two years.
The Break also represents a huge leap forward for Netflix’s ongoing struggle to compete in the “late-night” space. The platform’s first attempt at the genre with Chelsea Handler had its moments, but never really found its voice and was ultimately canceled after two seasons. A reboot (in all but title) of Joel McHale’s The Soup, just renewed for another six episodes, has been even less of a critical success.
Though viewers can stream episodes of The Break whenever they want, Netflix clearly wants Wolf’s show to have the same timely cultural impact that hosts like Oliver, Stephen Colbert, Samantha Bee, and others have managed to make on a consistent basis during the first half of Trump’s presidential term. They have landed the right host in Michelle Wolf.