Friday, January 25, 2008


Probably the main thing a documentary hopes to accomplish is to give its audience a deeper, more appreciative understanding of its topic, and on that level, Comedian mostly succeeds. On a pure entertainment level, well, the results are a bit more mixed.

The film, produced by Jerry Seinfeld, tries to pull back the curtain a bit on the average life, or at least mindset, of stand-up comics, primarily by following the careers of two of them: Seinfeld himself, as he tries to make a comeback two years since he’s even been on stage by writing an entire new hourlong act for himself, and Orny Adams, a comic who’s been around for about a decade now, and hasn’t yet caught his big break. The film shows how much of a neurotic mess pretty much everyone in the business is, as not only Adams, but Seinfeld and his peers, are all a bunch of nervous wrecks before and after their performances. Immediately after a gig where he gets a great response from the crowd, he confides in fellow comic Colin Quinn that he thought his whole set stunk and the crowd knew he was dying up there no matter what their response was. Adams is even worse, as every moment he’s not on stage he’s pretty much collapsing into a heap, just as miserable a person as they come. He openly trashes everyone, and for all of his claims that he wants to succeed above all else, the more he succeeds in his career the more miserable he seems to become.
One of the film’s main problems is in how, while it shows how much of a pack of emotional wrecks comics are, it never really explores why they are all that way, or why such a person would choose such a career. Another is in how, despite being a documentary on stand-up comedy, it doesn’t really show very much actual stand-up. Outside of Seinfeld and Adams practicing their new material at home and backstage, we only get very brief snippets of their actual performances, something that would have helped the film tremendously. As it is, most of the humor just comes in little asides and casual banter between the various comics backstage, and most of the fun comes from hearing their stories about their favorite comics. The highlight in that regard comes from Chris Rock, who comes off here as one of the few people in the industry that’s not a complete mess, who tells about how he went to see Bill Cosby recently, and it was the best show he’d ever seen, so much so that it made all the comics that had gone feel like frauds. The actual arrival of Cosby at the end, and Seinfeld’s rookie-like amazement at being in such a legend’s presence, really work.
The film itself does work well overall, too. Its only flaw is that it doesn’t really excel enough: it doesn’t push quite deep enough to really find out all there is to know about the industry and stand-up comics in general, and it doesn’t contain enough actual stand-up material to work as a full comedy. Still, it did keep me consistently entertained all the way through, and I suppose that’s all I can really hope for from it.
Rating: ***

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