Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

Watching the Comedy Documentary I Am Comic

It’s no secret that sometimes comedy is taken a bit too seriously. Comedy obsessives love not just the jokes, but the mechanics and emotions of the comedy world. There are a raft of comedy documentaries exploring comedy and comedians, but do they really have anything significant to add to the discussion? This series looks at comedy documentaries and whether they’re interesting, insightful, and possibly even…funny?

Early on in I Am Comic, Dave Attell lays it all out: “Why are comedy documentaries always so fucking serious? I mean, I know we’re sad people to begin with, but let’s find a lighter way.”

It is true that many a serious look at comedy has managed to take all of the fun out of the funny. It’s a shame, and a problem, that someone who loves comedy might take a deeper look at something comedic and come away liking comedy a little bit less.

In that respect, I Am Comic is the ideal place to start a series exploring comedy documentaries. It’s a light-hearted and enjoyable look at the world of stand-up filled with jokes and fun stories, and doesn’t ever get bogged down in grandstanding or self-pity.

The film’s director, former stand-up Jordan Brady, says at the beginning that he’s looking to explore “the occupation of being a working comedian.” He enlists the help of retired stand-up Ritch Shnyder to interview comics and loosely narrate the film.

The talking-head structure of the film is pretty standard, broken up by the occasional cutesy cartoon or stand-up clip. The movie whips its way through dozens of topics, from life on the road to alt comedy to hecklers, and the pacing is quick and funny.

Towards the start, Craig Anton even runs through the basic stand-up terminology, and how a simple set up-punchline-tag evolves into a bit, a chunk, a set. It’s nothing mind blowing, but it means the films can be shared with non-comedy fans and they’ll still be able them to appreciate the game.

Comedian-wise, there are the people you’d expect — Louis C.K., Sarah Silverman, Todd Glass — and a few you don’t (or at least, I didn’t) — Tim Allen, Jeff Foxworthy, Roseanne Barr. (There’s are also lovely interviews with Greg Giraldo and Robert Schimmel, who both passed away after the movie was released.)

The movie does deviate from the talking heads style a few times. Todd Glass gets to set up a room exactly the way it should be done, while Andy Kindler giving us an on-stage perspective by strapping a camera to his forehead. And we follow Ritch Shnyder as he restarts stand-up in Los Angeles, after more than 10 years out of the game.

And so, in conclusion…

Is it interesting? Definitely. Released in 2010, it still feels modern and relevant. The fast pace allows the comics to touch on topics that come up on podcasts a lot, like drunk hecklers and the internet, as well as things that you don’t hear about as much, like paychecks and writing jokes for other comics.

What does it have to say about comedy? Fun as the movie is, I didn’t come away feeling like there was any poignant message. “Comedians are special and weird,” the film seems to say, “and we like it that way.”

Is it funny? Sometimes. There are a few stand-up bits shown, including classic jokes from Gaffigan, Silverman, and others. The talking heads are a nice balance of funny when possible and serious when necessary, and it never feels like comedians are struggling to work in gags.

Can I stream it on Netflix? Yes.

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  • Hassan Ansari@facebook

    I saw this movie and this is my take.

    I noticed the director really did try and make this a dramatic documentary take on the life of stand up. Example, with the Nick Kroll interview, he begins to cry(turns out to be a gag) and the director immediatly pounces on it. He "directs" Nick kroll to continue crying instead of letting him express himself naturally. I think at the end of the whole thing the director realized he did not have enough to make this a sad comedy documentary and re-edited it into an overall broad story.

    2nd Example: The protagonist to the story was a returning old comic trying to fit into today's world with a very small chance of succeeding…

  • Hassan Ansari@facebook

    In addition, This really was a mediocre documentary.

    * The background sound/music was in horrible sync with the dialouge; overlapping the voice on screen or just not the right tone for the scene.

    * The did enjoy the mention how stand-up comedy was inflated all over 80's cable television and the wide range of headlining comics dropping their two cents of stand-up insight.

  • Dan Bell@facebook

    1. Jordan Brady really is a nice guy. And I know he is in love with comedy. He is very open to interviews and emails. If you ever want his input he is more than welcome to help.
    2. The best thing about this movie is it shows the unglamorous side of having a standup career. It is really hard to explain to non comedy friends and family "what it means to be a comic." This doc does a great job of helping bridge the gap between people who know and those who don't.
    3. This doc is brutal to a young comic. It does a great job of what i consider to be tough love. If you aren't %100 into standup for the long haul and cant handle the struggle this movie will make you stop and question your allegiance to the craft.

    BUT i understand the complaints. My apetite for comedy is insatiable and I will watch the good the bad and the ugly. If anyone has other documentary suggestions that will be great.