What starts as a profile of Tim Robinson, Emmy-winning co-creator of the sketch phenomenon I Think You Should Leave, becomes a meditation on what exactly the show is trying to do, and why Robinson succeeds so soaringly. Sure, Sam Anderson isn’t making many points that haven’t been made before—but as with any of his profiles, he makes them so engagingly and artfully that you’ll all too happy to steep yourself in a not-quite-new argument.
Robinson understands a nasty little paradox about rules: The more you believe in them — the more conscientious you are — the more time you will spend agonizing, worrying, wondering if you are doing things right.
This obsession makes “I Think You Should Leave” the perfect comedy for our overheated cultural moment. The 21st-century United States is, infamously, a preschool classroom of public argumentation. Our one true national pastime has become litigating the rules, at high volume, in good or neutral or very bad faith. “Norms,” a concept previously confined to psychology textbooks, has become a front-page concern. Donald Trump’s whole political existence seems like some kind of performance-art stunt about rule-breaking. The panics over “cancel culture” and the “woke mob” — these are symptoms of a fragmented society wondering if, in a time of flux, it still meaningfully shares social rules. Every time we wander out into the public square, we risk ending up screaming, or screamed at, red-faced, in tears.