(Nikki Glaser) (Photo: Danny Feld/Comedy Central)

Nikki Glaser, maybe best known from Inside Amy Schumer, opens her audacious new show with an intermingled introduction and warning: “I’m a curious perv, and this is Not Safe.” Comedy Central bills Not Safe With Nikki Glaser as an “unapologetic, honest and sometimes shocking multiplatform series,” and the show’s marketing has been self-consciously provocative, but in “Carpe Do ’Em,” Not Safe carves out a safe, enthusiast space to explore curiosity about sex.

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Glaser approaches sex with winning practicality as a fact of life. It’s something everyone—at least, everyone watching her show—is probably doing, “maybe with yourself right now, in which case… guys, thank you!” She starts with the adolescent moment she discovered sex: the roller coaster scene from 1996’s Fear, in which Mark Wahlberg’s character fingers Reese Witherspoon’s character on a roller coaster.

“This was the moment my vagina turned on,” Glaser announces, and it did more than arouse her. Flashing a blurry photograph of herself and an anonymous companion, she says, “I got fingered on Space Mountain. This is who I am.” She’s enthusiastic about sex—safe, consensual sex for everyone who wants it—and she’s just as enthusiastic about learning what kinds of sex other people want.

“Do you want to have sex with me?”

To find out whether she’s friend-zoning any of her friends, Glaser invites them to a filmed conversation, where she surprises them with John, a polygraph expert who’ll monitor their answers. At their first meeting, John volunteers, “I’d like to have sex with you,” foreshadowing the tone of the episode: It’s unexpected, it’s frank, it’s a little uncomfortable, and she just rolls with it.

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Glaser asks questions like “Am I one of your top ten girl friends?,” “Have I spent the night on your couch?,” “Have you ever pictured me masturbating?,” and John keeps his eyes on the polygraph, giving a thumbs-up or thumbs-down for each response. The ambush and the pointed questions could feel humiliating, but instead, after some initial exasperation (“Do you mind if he hooks you up for this conversation?” “Fuck you, dude! You evil, evil woman. All right, sure”), these conversations are awkward, revealing, funny, and affectingly sweet as Glaser builds up to the big question: “Do you want to have sex with me?”

When I first saw this clip, each unfolding interview felt destined to be my favorite, from Jason Zumwait’s consideration of the myriad possibilities of imagination and his level “No” at the prospect of having sex with Glaser in the real world, where he’s married, to Dave Waite’s intentionally unintelligible, eloquently waffling “uh-meh-y’know-guh-yeh-deh,” to Virginia Collins’ measured “Yes.” It’s easily the best part of the premiere, with a payoff that’s as sweet as it is sexy.

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“Do you think he’s still in?”

Rachel Feinstein and Rory Scovel, Glaser’s in-studio guests, play along on Tinder Tapout, in which the Not Safe team hammer together a Tinder profile to see just how repugnant she can get before her match drops her. The imaginary Layla’s interests include “Jesus, nails, and entreptreturship” (that’s not a misspelling—I mean, it’s not my misspelling, it’s Layla’s), and she punctuates her description of casually engineering the arson of her ex’s mother’s house with “haha” and a fire emoji.

RL, actual Tinder user and “bad boy with my shit together,” doesn’t tap out at any of these red flags. When Layla blames her (fictional, please remember this is fictional, oh God, trigger warning, but this is fictional) child’s death from being left in a hot car on “global warning” (again, that’s Layla’s misspelling), RL finally exits the conversation… but only to return with a message that sums up dating in the Tinder era.

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Tinder Tapout initially feels exploitative, and I found myself both put off and distracted by legal and ethical questions about broadcasting a presumably private chat, but the segment ends with RL’s appearance in the audience and a conversation in which Glaser thanks him, apologizes for potentially ruining Tinder for him (“No, I’m still swiping”), and tells him, “I’m sure you’ll make a terrible woman very happy someday.” His presence (and the implication that he gave permission) rebalances the joke, suggesting that however penetrating Not Safe gets, it won’t wantonly expose private matters of private people.

“Does it look like my feet are concocting a plan?”

Fetishes don’t get much tamer than a straightforward foot fetish, and much of the discomfort (I was uncomfortable, which says more about me than it does about the men she interviews) in this segment comes from Glaser herself. She starts by showing a close-up of her foot with bunions and hammertoes; when the crowd groans, she responds, “Okay, easy. Jesus! I’m being brave here!” and “I literally would rather that you stare at a picture of my open vagina right now.” But there is something brave in taking those “jacked-up dogs” to a foot-worship party, where they’ll be the focal point of her acceptance or rejection.

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I like Glaser for putting herself in that uncomfortable position, and except for the opening crack “this is where elegant bare feet is happening, and where most AMBER Alerts end,” which equates fetishism with child endangerment, the segment doesn’t punch down. Instead, her interviews—intercut for variety, and no doubt for timing—present a reasonably even-handed picture of a few different people’s predilections. Glaser’s curiosity is real and respectful, unabashedly asking the details of their different preferences and practices and—just like any nitty-gritty conversation about sex—what positions work best for them.

One interviewee mentions he’s not attracted to “busted feet,” and she follows up, “What’s a busted foot to you?” As he details the bunions, structural misalignments, corns, and other ailments that turn him off, Glaser shoots a knowing looks to the camera, and she owns both her discomfort and his as she displays her “busted” feet to him and he tries backpedal politely.

When Joey, her first interview subject, corrects her “You like a clean foot?” with “I do like a little foot smell,” the studio audience groans again, but Glaser isn’t fazed, because we each like what we like. Instead, when Joey massages her feet, murmuring, “This is nice,” she shoots him a look of tenderness—and maybe surprise that the feet that elicited that groan from her audience bring him such obvious pleasure.

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Only once does she show distaste, even a flash of horror, and as the clip plays out, that distaste and horror feel appropriate. One interview subject confides that he rubs his partners’ feet “to lull them into a false sense of security right before I put things underneath their toenails.” Things? “Like a sharpened chopstick. Toothpicks.”

“What do you put under their toenails?!”

Even then, Glaser tries to get back on track, because any sexual pleasure can be good between consenting adults. “And girls like this?” she prods him, “Obviously, all these women are consenting?” His unpersuasive “… sure” suggests her shock is well-founded. Barring editing designed to create a villain, either this particular fetishist crosses agreed-upon boundaries or he’s pretending he does, and neither possibility screams safe, sane, and consensual.

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“It’s time to wrap it up! It’s not going to feel as good, but we’re doing the right thing.”

In its premiere, Not Safe feels slighty unsteady, even untried—like a couple (or a trio, or whatever floats your boat) testing out a new position. But Glaser helms the show with a confident hand. Her patter’s a little too studied to feel natural, but it is assured and it keeps the show flowing.

It’s sometimes awkward and sometimes gleefully smutty, but the heart of this show is acceptance, of ourselves and of each other. In the closing minutes of the show, Glaser presents what might as well be Not Safe’s mission statement: “We need to own the sexual choices we make,” and she urges viewers to embrace themselves by embracing their desires, “because life is short and sex is fun.” It’s a surprisingly sweet message from an unsurprisingly salty show.

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Stray observations

  • When John chimes in, “Fingering’s for guys with small wieners,” Nikki Glaser’s all earnestness as she responds, “I don’t think that’s true, John.” (Today I learned Merriam-Webster prefers the ie spelling of wiener.)
  • “Would I have sex with you? If we lived in a vacuum of space and time? Maybe.” “What if I can suck like a vacuum?”
  • Glaser asks the men “Do you want to have sex with me?” but asks Virgina “Would you have sex with me?,” which—is it just me?—feels more like an request than a question.
  • “All right, guys, do you think he’s still in after all this?” Rachel Feinstein: “Absolutely. I think he just took his dick out.” Rory Scovel: “I’ll speak for men: That’s true.”
  • #hashbrownboobs

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