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Resource: 5 Non-Fiction Films / TV Shows about Stand-Up Comedy

March 11, 2011

TGIF, guys!

This Friday’s resource is a companion article to last week’s 5 Fictional Films and TV Shows About Stand-Up Comedy.  This week we will look at the non-fiction side of the coin.

1) Comedian

Of all the docs on this list, Comedian is far and away my favourite.  The engaging narrative follows Jerry Seinfeld on a comeback tour, as he struggles to build new material and get back into shape as a comic.  The story also focuses on Orny Adams, a young comic who is still making his way up the ladder.  There is a fascinating interplay between the two stories, and it is jammed with a ton of real talk about the craft of stand-up comedy.  Jerry’s world-weary attitude juxtaposes so well with Adams’ youthful arrogance and hunger.  This is one of those films I watch every six months, because grow as a comic I pull more stuff out of it. 

2) I Am Comic

This is a relatively recent documentary about stand-up comedy that is much broader in scope than “Comedian.”  Whereas “Comedian” predominantly uses two characters to explore the craft of stand-up, “I Am Comic” is more of a nuts and bolts informational doc.  Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  To be honest, the plot with Rich Shydner, a retired comic coming back into the fray seemed a bit forced.  Also, be aware that this film caters to the stand-up comedy layman, so you will be sitting through some explanations of fairly pedestrian concepts.  But it is literally jammed with quality interviews with a who’s who of contemporary stand-up giants.  Definitely worth a watch if only to see Carlos Mencia admit that he’s a dirty thief.

3) The Aristocrats

The Aristocrats refers to the ultimate bizarre, rude joke.  The gimmick is that other than the punchline and the premise, the rest of the joke is told differently depending on  who delivers it.  I thought this was a cool idea to base a film around, because it essentially comes down to famous comics telling their version of the joke.  If you are interested in trying to define what you like about certain comics’ styles, watching them riff on this old classic is a nice way to analyze their unique comedic voice.

4) Heckler

A somewhat self-involved and whiny look at the life of comic Jamie Kennedy, a stand-up comic who starred in a string of Hollywood bombs (Malibu’s Most Wanted, Son of The Mask).  The first half is a pretty straightforward look at the world of heckling in stand-up, and can get a little boring.  But I found the second half really picked up, focusing instead on the relationship between artist and critic.  This movie is definitely biased against the critics, but there were some nice ideas sprinkled throughout the second half.

5) I Need Laughs: A Week in the Life of a New York Stand-Up Comedian

Fellow blogger and stand-up comic Matt Ruby took some time between posts to his excellent blog The Sandpaper Suit to make this mini-doc that follows him around the city of New York for a week of shows.  I liked this project because it had a lot of nice detail about the grind of doing stand-up week to week, and there’s also a great part where Matt comes up with a joke on the way to a set, and then we get to see him working out wording onstage that very night.  His goal:

“Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedian” is a great documentary. But the idea that it shows how tough it is to be a comic is, well, comical. When Jerry is roughing it, he’s still going up at the best clubs in NYC in front of sizable crowds. I wanted to show what it’s like when you’re doing a real mix of shows, some decent and some where ya feel like a little piece of you is dying.”

Very cool.  And free.  Thanks Matt.  See all 7 parts here.

Honourable Mention: Make ‘Em Laugh

This PBS series is not so much about stand-up comedy as much as comedy in general.  However, I found it to be well done, and it got me onto some famous old-time comedians I might never have looked at, such as Buster Keaton, and the Marx Brothers.  Watching this series definitely got me onto some great works that helped me grow as a humorist, which I’m sure translated into stand-up skillz.  And with Billy Crystal narrating, you can’t go wrong, check it out.

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