Readers be like, "430 times, huh? He actually CLOCKED THIS?"
Yes, I did. It’d be easy to write a clickbait headline exaggerating something along the lines of “Chelsea Peretti Says ‘Like’ a Hundred Million Times” but I couldn’t in good conscience write an article based on hyperbole. (I tried to make a cool visual chart of the data, but failed miserably. If anyone has the skills to do so, feel free to download the CSV of "likes as lap times" here. )
I had picked Chelsea Peretti’s special “One of the Greats” over the multitude of stand-ups now on Netflix because, if she was good, I'd enjoy watching “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” just a little bit more. The first gold star for her was rolling up on that motorcycle in in front of the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. No wussy little cruiser. A badass sport bike. I was getting turned on… maybe it was her Clint Eastwood voiceover, but regardless, her mission was already half-accomplished.
A few more minutes in, and I’m unsure about this show. Chelsea Peretti is proving to be one of the funnier young comics I’ve come across, but her comedy special makes it difficult to judge. With this show Peretti takes us on a “re-imagining” of her stand-up act. This entailed intercutting Peretti’s “live” stand-up act with cutaways to awkward audience moments that were funny in the context of the special, but definitely staged and not typical of a live show.
These bits were sometimes funny, sometimes awkward, but the main result was to leave me wondering, "How much of this could be described as live stand-up comedy?" There were very few camera shots that showed both Peretti and the audience, and the atmosphere didn’t have quite the energy that a truly live stand-up show would have. I’m not saying that it was staged without a live audience, but it definitely felt more studio audience than club audience.
Regardless of how the production of Peretti’s stand-up special was done, she is a very funny comedienne. She does a little man-bashing, which is fair of any female comic, and touches briefly on some female-only experiences – the longest of these bits about the jealousy between regular and beautiful women on social media. Even as a man who hasn’t necessarily experienced it, I’ve seen this enough to get on board with those jokes. The rest of her material was across-the-board, just plain funny.
However, one thing captured my attention and quickly became an annoying distraction: Chelsea Peretti (mis)used the word “like” on average every 9.4 seconds. Biggest gap between two “likes?” Just 54 seconds. The shortest gap? Less than 1 second. Over 430 times in the course of her show. And this does not include the proper uses of the word "like."
Proper Uses of “Like”
- “Like” as a synonym for “enjoy” – I like fast cars/I enjoy fast cars.
- “Like” as a way of comparing two things – “People say I look like you.”
These are fine. Everyone's okay with these. But, an exhausting majority of Peretti’s “likes” fell into the teenage girl category, the improper uses of “like.”
Improper Uses of “Like”
- “Like” as a replacement for “um” or “uh” – I was, like, wondering if you'd want to go out with me.
- “Like” as action describing someone or something - “He was like, and then she was like, and then it was all, like… crazy, you know?”
“I was like” as a replacement for “I was thinking.”
During her special, there were times I couldn’t click my stopwatch as quickly as the “likes” were coming. An example of this would be when Peretti said:
“Like, I was on Twitter, and someone tweeted to me and they’re like: Get your thyroid checked. It, like, threw my entire day into a complete ball of chaos – I’m, like, what? Like, why? Uh... like, that’s not even being hateful; like, that’s someone that’s concerned for you. So I’m, like, Googling symptoms. It’s, like, ‘Bug eyes.’ I’m, like, 'Aah! Aah!'”
Listen to this snippet here: https://soundcloud.com/sidtunez/like
10 “likes” in 26 seconds! That's nearly a "like" every 2 seconds.
We all use unconscious, redundant phrases. Maybe your Mom doesn’t say “like,” but how often does she say “you know?” And how about your friend who says, “dude” every other word? And then there’s “totally” and “all,” often used in conjunction with “like.” In everyday speaking, we can give these a pass. But performers need to be more aware than anyone about language that takes their audiences out of the show and into a grammar spasm.
Do I make this mistake in my performing? Yes, of course I do. I’ve caught myself relying on “like” to get through anecdotes, on or off stage, and later tried to think, is there a better way I could have expressed myself than with “like?” In the clip below I say "like" 6 times in the first 30 seconds. In my defense, this was my newest material and I follow it with only 6 more "likes" in the next 3 minutes, one of which is an acceptable use.
There is a fine line between “grammatically correct” and “socially retarded.” Proper spelling and pronunciation in a txt message is akin to your grandparents trying to join a conversation about video games by opening with, “Well, in my day…” Stop already. TLDR. Lost your audience. L33t speak is great for the gamer and tech geeks that get it, but for those of us who earned some of our highest grades in spelling, writing, and english comprehension, we are scoffed at when we try to express ourselves in only 140 characters on Twitter.
It is in this socially conscience world that, for the purpose of clear communication in spoken dialogue, the "like" has a place as an effective describer of both verb and adverb in one. Instead of "he said belligerently..." or "he asked in a scared way..." or even "he didn't say anything at all, but was prepared to leave in a hurry..." - you can describe each of these with "he was like...".
“One of the Greats” was a wake up call for me, though, to not rely on the laziness that "like" allows. I’m practicing slowing down, paying more attention to my words. I don’t need to rush. Onstage, with the pressure to keep an audience, is where it’s most difficult to balance proper grammatical speech with informal conversation. It helps that I often record my act to play back and refine my material later, and with practice I’ve been able to cut back on the “likes” in my performed bits. I am, however, still noticing the “likes” in my regular conversations.
So, today is a good day to break the habit of the “LIKE.” Check out these additional links to see how you can help yourself break the habit, too.
I should be thankful for my OCD reaction to Chelsea Peretti’s “One of the Greats,” because I’m more focused on the quality and variation of my own delivery now. Despite all the “likes,” it’s still pretty dang good, so go ahead and give it a viewing. I watched it 3 times, and only once was for science.
ps. I also found a great app for Android during this: StopWatch Export.
------ More Reading ------
In defense of the “like”
Still more history of the “like”