Over the past couple of weeks, the internet has been entranced by a pair of documentaries charting the short rise and long fall of the Fyre Festival, a scammy music festival involving Ja Rule and social-media influencers having to eat sad cheese sandwiches in the Bahamas. There, now you know what they’re about and you don’t have to watch either of them. Instead, you can watch Killer Mike’s new show on Netflix, which is one of the most baffling and thought-provoking bits of entertainment to ever receive funding from a gigantic entertainment company.
The concept behind the show, titled Trigger Warning with Killer Mike, is simple: What if you took Nathan for You and replaced Nathan Fielder with a cool person — like Killer Mike? Now, don’t get me wrong, Nathan Fielder is a comedic genius, and Nathan for You is one of the more stunningly prescient bits of commentary on our extremely stupid modern lives, but Nathan Fielder the comedian goes out of his way to make the character “Nathan Fielder” deliberately unlikeable. Killer Mike makes this impossible, because he is one of the most likeable people alive.
In this sense, the true innovation that Trigger Warning brings to the format is Killer Mike himself, the hyper-charismatic and confident Atlanta rapper who weighs roughly 300 lbs and is half of the indie-rap superduo Run the Jewels. Though he is notable for both his sense of humor and penchant for activism — he may be the only person in existence who has both stumped for Bernie Sanders and appeared in two Eric Andre sketches — the idea on its face that Killer Mike might be able to carry a half-hour comedy show by himself is somewhat dubious. After all, we’re talking about a person who came up rapping alongside OutKast and matured into one of the most authoritative and respected voices in modern Atlanta hip-hop, not someone who cut their teeth doing open-mics at the Chuckle Factory (it also should be noted that the rapper got his name because he “kills microphones.”). It turns out, though, that Killer Mike is more than up to the job, and pulls off a high-wire act that sets genuinely radical politics alongside gonzo humor, while still remaining his affable self.
Each episode of Trigger Warning finds Killer Mike taking a social or economic issue facing the black community and attempting to solve it in the weirdest possible way. He dismantles the myth of “White Jesus” — Mike’s shorthand for the Christian church’s role in furthering racism and oppression throughout American history — by creating a new religion that worships naps and meets at Atlanta’s raunchiest strip club. He tries to encourage the unemployed to learn a trade by creating sex-positive porn that teaches vocational skills. He attempts to broaden his fanbase to appeal to the elderly by performing a show in a retirement home featuring a barbershop quartet as his backing band. All of these ideas are terrible, and part of the show’s fun is derived from watching Mike affect a deadpan gravitas as he tries to jam the square pegs of his mind into the round holes of reality through the sheer force of his personality.
Embedded within each bananas attempt to fix the world, however, is a nugget of prescient social commentary. When, in the series’ first episode, the avowed weed-lover Mike swears off marijuana as part of a larger initiative to support only black-owned businesses — though his dealer in Atlanta is black, that dude sources his weed from white growers, so he decides to abstain from smoking — it’s to point out that the current wave of staggered marijuana legalization has created a double standard, in which largely white-owned pot farms in states like California are hailed as legitimate business people while black and brown dealers shoulder serious legal risks.
In another episode, he teams with a group of Crips to create a soda called Crip-A-Cola as a way to show how gangs like the Hell’s Angels have been able to valorize and capitalize off of their image, while black gangs with equal name recognition are feared instead of celebrated. His sleep-based religion, meanwhile, is a both a critique of historical racist tropes and modernity’s insistence that we work constantly rather than stop and consider the world around us. As for the sex-positive vocational porn, well, unemployed people have a lot of time to jack off.
Still, the show is by no means preachy — even in the “White Jesus” episode, in which Mike literally preaches to people, it’s tempered by the fact that he and his congregation are solemnly passing around blunts in a strip club — and there are plenty of moments of pure absurdity for absurdity’s sake. After interviewing the head of a black separatist group in order to learn how to create his own country, for example, Mike solemnly tells the viewer, “Chief Asaru was a wealth of knowledge” in a voiceover amid a shot of the corpulent rapper gliding down a slide and then yelling, “Woo!” The episode where Mike produces the porn is preceded by a scene in which he asks an elementary school principal why he can’t tell kids, “I don’t believe in your dream. It’s wack.” Another episode features a T-Pain cameo, because every TV show should feature a T-Pain cameo.
This brings me to another great asset of the show, its supporting cast, which is made up of a slate of oddballs from Killer Mike’s personal life and the greater world around him. We meet the writer Patrick Goines, son of the legendary urban-fiction author Donald Goines, who’s Mike’s go-to guy whenever he needs somebody to write something. There’s also Mike’s childhood friend Sleepy, who becomes the figurehead of the rapper’s sleep-based religion (perhaps confusingly for southern hip-hop fans, this is a different Sleepy than Mike’s fellow member of the Dungeon Family clique, the producer/crooner Sleepy Brown). There’s also a vegan crip, a handyman who taught himself everything he knows by watching YouTube videos, a Satan-worshipping Juggalo, a pair of Renaissance Faire re-enactors, plus a dude named Mario whose sole purpose in life is getting in pointless arguments with Killer Mike.
People from each episode come together for the season’s sixth and final episode, in which Killer Mike buys an old plantation and converts it into a commune, sourcing supplies from brands like Soylent and Under Armour in exchange for putting their logos on its flag (Mike also says the commune is a separatist state called New Africa). Things get off to an appropriately goofy start, only to be derailed when Mario, Mike’s aforementioned nemesis, refuses to stand in a line and then submits a New African national anthem which Killer Mike hates.
With all this in mind, it should come at no surprise that Trigger Warning with Killer Mike is a show that will either not register with you at all or become your new favorite thing in the universe. That same sense of polarity is also present in Killer Mike’s personality. He’s a gun-loving Bernie Sanders supporter whose allyship and passion for social and economic justice is undergirded by a radical, pan-Africanist framework, but no matter how determined he is that his perspective is correct — and it often is — he’s willing to bend over backwards to understand where everyone he speaks to is coming from.
This, I think, is the ultimate message of Mike’s insane, brilliant show: that in his view, the key to life is offering empathy to others and receiving it in return. Such a philosophy is a tad corny when put bluntly but, then again, it also might be why Trigger Warning is so full of deliriously good moments.