Soon after finishing a 2017 gig in Philadelphia, stand-up comedian Jason Weems suffered an asthma attack that almost killed him.
Despite being functionally dead for five minutes, he recovered and went back to pursuing his comedy dreams. The experience ultimately gave the Baltimore native’s upcoming stand-up special, “Unknown,” which debuts Aug. 4.
As revealed in the trailer, which you can see below or on Facebook, the special’s title comes from the way the hospital identified him after his asthma attack. His near-death experience was chronicled in the third season of the podcast “First Day Back,” which was covered by news outlets like The Guardian and The New Yorker.
Weems shot the one-hour special at Baltimore Center Stage in the Mount Vernon neighborhood. Per the trailer, Weems’ jokes take on topics including President Barack Obama’s accomplishments and the comforts of a good master bathroom.
“I almost got into a fight with a dude the other day, who gon’ tell me Barack Obama didn’t do nothing while he was in office,” Weems said, performing on a stage adorned with a characteristic “Baltimore: The Greatest City in America” bench. “I said, ‘He didn’t get assassinated!‘ ” he continued to rapturous applause.
Weems said that the special, which he shot at the end of 2018, deals with what he refers to as his death.
“I died May 3, 2017, which is kind of one of the big elements and kind of story themes in the special,” he said. “From May 2017 up until the winter of the following year, it was pulling together all of the elements for the special.”
Weems was a rising star in the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia stand-up scene even before his asthma attack forced a break from performing. He has performed at the Just For Laughs festival in Montreal and reached the semi-finals on two seasons of NBC’s “Last Comic Standing.” “Unknown” is his second broadcast comedy special, after the independently released “Vol. 1: Intellectual Property.” He said that he wants the special to shine a spotlight on the city and its Black artists, adding that he created the special with an entirely Black production crew.
“Everybody who worked on the project was all Baltimore-based Black creatives,” he said. “It was amazing, it was one of those things — the way that they celebrate artists in some of these cities, whether it’s New York, L.A., Chicago or even D.C., sometimes Baltimore seems like it still can’t get over that hump of people realizing just how damn dope this place is.”
“‘Unknown’ is a way of saying, ‘Hey, we’re here,‘ ” he added. “It’s not just ‘The Wire.‘ ”