Watching When Stand Up Stood Out, the Documentary About Boston’s Early Standup Scene

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?

The concept of comedy may be universal, but some comedy comes from a very specific time and place. When Stand Up Stood Out looks back at one such era, the influential Boston comedy scene of the late 1970s and 1980s.

Directed and narrated by stand-up Fran Solomita, the film explores how that scene seemed to emerge out of nothingness. With little outside influence as to how comedy “should” be done, Boston produced comics as varied as Steven Wright, Bobcat Goldthwait, Paula Poundstone, and Denis Leary. The blue collar “jock mentality” made Boston comedy fast, tough and unforgiving, and yet a supportive community formed between the comics.

The turning point was Steven Wright’s appearance on The Tonight Show in 1982. It was such a milestone for that group that one comedy club stopped its show that night and put a television on the stage, so that the audience, along with the comics, could watch Wright’s performance. (Some of Wright’s set is included, along with Wright looking adorably terrified as Johnny Carson tries to make small talk with him on the couch.)

That was the moment when the comedy scene in Boston went national, and the success changed everything. From there, the movie’s stories parallel the rest comedy boom and bust in the 80s, a story that most comedy fans know pretty well.

One of the best features of the movie is its usage of old footage, both on and off stage. There’s an impressive amount, from local TV interviews to backstage film of the comics. Unfortunately, some of the “current” interviews were outdated even by the time the movie was released in 2003, which ages the movie more than it needs to.

The film is bookended with footage of a fundraiser show, which acts as a reunion for that comedy class. The obvious joy of the comics in all being together again is an appropriately sweet end to a film that is really a love letter to the Boston comedy scene of yore.

And so, in conclusion…

Is it interesting? There are interesting moments, but you have to be a hardcore comedy fan to really love it all.

What does it have to say about comedy? One of the most unique things about that scene was how un-influenced the comedians were. At one point, Wright talks about how the isolation of that group was key to its creativity, since there was no one to give advice. That seclusion could never happen now.

Is it funny? Sometimes, mostly from the on-stage clips.

Can I stream it on Netflix? No.

Any comedy documentaries you’d like to see discussed? Do let me know.

Elise Czajkowski is a freelance journalist in New York City. She would love to be a part of an influential yet under-appreciated social scene.

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