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This documentary follows Jerry Seinfeld during his efforts to become a
working stand-up comedian again, after almost 15 years of absence from
the stage. But even for a man his caliber, it's far from an easy job to
come back on stage just like that. He's got the cheers upfront because
he is a celebrity, but once the initial welcome applause is gone, it's
the material that counts. But it seems behind every minute of stand-up
comedy is a hundred hours of hard work, with weeks of brainstorming,
writing, and trying out new material on hackling audiences. "Twenty
minutes in three months", he states. Seinfeld also talks shop with a
number of friends and colleagues in the business, including Robert
Klein, Ray Romano, Chris Rock, Garry Shandling, Jay Leno and Bill
Don't expect this documentary to reveal much about the private life of Jerry Seinfeld. He is self-assured and confident - no surprises there - and is always in control. He is only followed when working at his act, but we do get an occasional peek at his wife and kid, for instance before his appearance on the Tonight Show. But this documentary also shows us the struggles of Orny Adams, a young, cocky and insecure comedian, who tries to make to make his mark in show business.
Let me state this now. Orny Adams is not a funny comedian. He's not funny at all. Off-stage, he has a few funny observations, but his act is terrible. But he did invoke some sympathy with me, or empathy, so you will, with a fascinating portrait of his struggles. But I never really understood why they chose him. Obviously, the crew used him for a documentary about Seinfeld, but not on criteria based on comedic talent. To me, it was astonishing and very revealing that Seinfeld never even met Orny Adams before the filming of this project started. I think there is one scene where they meet in a club and have a short conversation. On the DVD Seinfeld casually reveals he never spoke to him again since! Not because they had an argument but probably because he is not in the least interested in Orny Adams. Jerry Seinfeld is well known for not having many friends and not mixing work and private life, but this?
Back to Orny for some final thoughts. I always wondered whether Orny actually was a real guy and not some actor? I still do think he is an actual comedian, but with a name like that? In a restaurant in Montréal, the waitress asks for his name and doesn't believe him and proclaims: "Get out of town. No mother would name her kid Orny." He insists that it is in fact his real name. Well... perhaps one mother did, or it is his stage name. I don't know. Fact is, although he's not funny at all, I liked the portrait and I liked the whole film and found this a fascinating insight in the world of the stand-up comedian. Every Seinfeld-fan has probably seen this already, but I imagine this must be an enjoyable documentary for everyone.
Camera Obscura --- 8/10
I have watched this twice and it seems you have to personally want/need to entertain to appreciate it. The process of performing or a performance is both immensely nerve racking and ultimately very satisfying. Comedian will draw you in to that process as opposed to entertaining you as a viewer with stand-up comedy. The main quest is the pursuit of a lengthy comedy act. Seinfeld's personal struggle is not intensely dramatic or humorous but rather very compelling to you the performer; "how can I validate myself all over again when I don't need the money, what am I here for?" I would recommend this to anyone who wants to do stand-up or sketch comedy or theater, or any other live performance for that matter. If this is you then you will appreciate the process Seinfeld goes through because it is the journey back to his calling, what made Seinfeld matter to you and me.
This is a fine documentary about what it takes to make it in this
Comedy is a very difficult business. Think about it. How many movies
you seen lately that inspire real laughter that don't involve seamen or
feces. You wouldn't believe it, but here is a guy that is surely going to
be a billionaire by the time he retires and he is nervous as hell
You would think that a guy like Seinfeld would just be able to get up
and do a 10 minute act like nothing. After all he is a genius, isn't
But no. He is constantly refining his material, getting heckled and
jokes that get little laughs. Who would have thought?
The documentary features another comedian that is up and coming by the name of Orny Adams. The guy is completely neurotic, paranoid and cannot handle criticism in the least bit. Seinfeld is seen several times with him drinking beer and eating fries. The temptation is to think that Seinfeld sees himself 20 years ago in Adams. More like he sees himself now in Adams, still a nervous wreck. Seinfeld is not treated godlike at all by his peers, but rather, well like a peer.
There is a great scene where Chris Rock describes an act he saw where a man did two 2-hour shows a day without an opening act and without an intermission with constant killer material. The man is Bill Cosby. Robert Klein and George Carlin might have been the forerunners of this industry but Bill Cosby is the god that everyone is amazed by and later Seinfeld gets to meet him and is very quite while Bill is giving advise.
This is a great documentary that shows it is far more difficult than it looks and it has some very funny moments as well.
I was never a big fan of "Seinfeld", though that had more to do with my
natural opposition to sitcoms (laugh tracks make me cringe) than with the
material in the show itself. So, by extension, I didn't think I was the
biggest fan of Jerry Seinfeld himself either, but after seeing "Comedian",
an intense and funny documentary about what it takes to make it in that
profession, I have a newfound appreciation for him, as well as stand-up
comics in general.
Stand-up comedy is one of those professions that a lot of people probably think anybody could get up there and do, but this movie proves otherwise. It's rough work entertaining people, especially in a live setting and when you're up there all by your lonesome.
The movie mainly focuses on Seinfeld as he gradually makes his comeback to the stand-up scene after years of absence, slowly compiling new material and testing it out on audiences. It's a brave format for a comedy film, because it's about HOW an act is perfected, and not just the perfect act itself. That means we're allowed to see what it looks like when jokes fall dead flat, because that is all a learning experience for a comic, no matter how long they've been doing it.
Several other comics, like Colin Quinn, Chris Rock, Garry Shandling, and George Wallace make brief appearances, and in a nice scene near the end, Seinfeld has a good conversation with one of his idols, a warm and encouraging Bill Cosby.
Also a big plus is the cool, New York atmosphere and the soundtrack, which features songs by artists as diverse as Charles Mingus, Al Green and Bob Dylan.
This documentary is for someone who thinks stand up comedy is easy. No one
has an idea what goes on behind the scenes, even the great Jerry Seinfeld,
who after a hit TV series decides he wants to go back to the places that
gave him his break.
We can feel the pain of newcomers such as Orny Adams who is trying to begin a career as a comedian. His presence in the film makes one understand the frustrations these actors go through on a nightly basis wherever they face a public that wants to be entertained with non stop jokes. It is very hard indeed to be able to do it every time.
The documentary is very fast in the sure hands of Christian Charles who obviously has an eye for capturing the comedians at their most vulnerable points.
We get to see a shaky Seinfeld trying new material. Sometimes he is good, but sometimes he really stink. He has been away from the scene for such a long time that it takes him a while to find his feet. His scenes with Bill Cosby, the great Robert Klein and others are the best things going with the film.
People in general will have a second view after seeing this movie about the funny men in comedy clubs.
This was a very good documentary. I have read several scathing reviews
on this film, but for my wife and me, we enjoyed it. Living in a small
town that does not have the luxury of a comedy club, it really
impressed us to see very famous comedians still getting up on the small
stage to tone, build, and master their craft. I understand that this
probably doesn't happen every day in NYC and that there are months that
go by without anyone famous walking into the club, but just imagine
sitting there enjoying an adult beverage, and in comes Jerry wanting to
explain the ludicrousness of life. To me that would be amazing. To get
back to the documentary though, I realize that this is a prime example
of staging in the documentary world. I know that these were not random
events, but instead set up to show the "birth" of a joke. For that, I
think it angered some people, for me, and only in this film, did it
work. What I think was to show the hardships of being a comedian in
today's society, actually transformed into giving Jerry Seinfeld this
platform to show his ability, his human nature, and his hardships of
building a new act. It is a rather humbling experience, as we get to
see this very human person unfold before our eyes. We can feel the
tension that he feels before every show, the nerves that we would think
would be non-existent with a person like Jerry, is actually still alive
and kicking. It is a beautiful film that perfectly captures the world
of which I knew nothing about.
What I was very impressed with in this documentary is that they were able to find someone that was a direct opposite of Jerry and give us a direct counter-point to the stand-up world. That person, Orny Adams, perhaps revealed too much about himself, which only hurt his ability in the long run. Whereas Jerry seemed very open to the audience, very approachable to everyone, Orny was in the game for the money, wealth, and power only. You can see this whenever someone talks during one of Orny's shows. It is always good to be proud of what you do, but never hurt the people that decide your fate. It is always the audience's response that will make or break you as a comedian, and I never felt that Orny understood this. Jerry did, and that is why his shows seemed to always be better received. Sure, he was Jerry Seinfeld, but even when he was making fun of someone, it seemed in jest, and not anger. With Orny, it was anger.
I normally do not do this, but I would also like to give credit to those that designed this DVD. It was literally packed with extras that only helped build more excitement for this film. For example, you cannot help but laugh at Martin Short and his portrayal of Jiminy Glick. You also cannot help but laugh at the way that he interviews his guests. This was just another budding example of how well Jerry can take a joke, and how Orny just will never succeed in this business. Glick plays off with Jerry, continually insulting and praising at the same time. With Orny, it is nothing but insults, and I don't think Orny understands this. He has no respect for the field or the profession, and actually gives it this very dark cloud. You are a comedian for the people, not for the wealth. Whatever follows is great, but you need to always respect the people that put you there. Orny will not, that is why he is not good at what he does. But, back to the DVD, it is loaded with extras that I think are really interesting to watch. More from Letterman and the notes of a joke just seemed to fit well with everything else.
Overall, I was very impressed with this film. While some will argue that it is nothing but a way to cash in on Seinfeld's status, I thought that it showed this world that is difficult, and not as easy as everyone else may think. I went into this film not knowing much about the world of comedians, but left with a whole new respect for people in the trade (except for Orny). I recommend this film to anyone that is looking for a good laugh or for anyone even considering getting into the comedian profession. This is a light-hearted look into a very difficult field that is still hard even for those that have made millions from it. I was impressed, and I think you will be as well!
Grade: ***** out of *****
After cocreating and starring for nine years in THE sitcom of the '90s, and rightfully earning hundreds of millions of dollars doing so, funnyman Jerry Seinfeld did not do what I would have done; namely, lay in a hammock by the ocean for the rest of his life. To his great credit, Seinfeld decided to go back to what he loves most: doing stand-up material in front of an audience. Director Christian Charles' 2002 documentary "Comedian," it must be stated, is not so much a performance film as it is a primer in how very difficult it is to put an hour's worth of "killer" material together. This is not a Jerry Seinfeld biography, but rather a collection of glimpses into the lives of working comics. During the course of the film, as Jerry painstakingly--and sometimes painfully--puts his new act together, he talks to such established names as Jay Leno, Gary Shandling, Bill Cosby (his childhood hero, apparently), Robert Klein (whose joke about Florida may be the film's funniest) and Ray Romano. For contrast, perhaps half the film is taken up by the travails of a talented and cocky aspiring comic named Orny Adams, whose various struggles really show us how difficult the comedy business can be. I mean, here it is, more than six years since Orny's Letterman debut, and he is still hardly a household name, right? The net result for most viewers will most likely be a realization of how hard it is to just get up there and tell jokes; forget about making it big in the business! On the down side, "Comedian" features excessively choppy editing, overlapped dialogue that is often hard to make out, and just not enough actual performance footage. The film does have a cumulative effect, however, and the sum does wind up equalling more than its many jagged parts. "Not that there's anything wrong with that."
While the box promises hilarious comedy, the video it holds delivers a
solid documentary about what it takes to be a class act in stand-up
comedy, both as an up-and-comer and as someone trying reinvent himself.
Orny Adams is in need of serious mental health help. He consistently goes to pieces and is tortured by his inner demons.
Jerry Seinfeld, on the other hand, shows how someone with a basic sense of self-esteem and a rewarding personal life deals with the nerve-wracking ordeal that is "creating a compelling live show."
The picture documents this process carefully and gives good insights for performers in all genre. It's not a laugh riot, and it's -just- compelling enough to watch the whole way through, but it's not something one needs to see twice.
The documentary `Comedian' provides a nuts-and-bolts, behind-the-scenes
glimpse into the world of the stand-up comic. While it features a sea of
familiar faces - Ray Romano, Gary Shandling, Chris Rock, Jay Leno, Bill
Cosby - making what turn out to be little more than cameo appearances, the
film focuses almost exclusively on two figures from the comedy nightclub
scene: one well known, Jerry Seinfeld, and the other an up-and-coming,
potential new star named Orny Adams. `Comedian' derives much of its meaning
from the ironic juxtaposition of these two men. Seinfeld is a man who has
managed to achieve what, for any comedian, would be the pinnacle of success
fame, fortune and international celebrity status - yet he still finds
himself riddled with personal doubts and feelings of inadequacy every time
he gets up to perform on stage. Adams, who has yet to get that `big break,'
somehow comes across as much more cocky, arrogant and self-assured than
Seinfeld although Adams, too, confesses that he may indeed be a harsher
critic of his own performance than are the members of his
`Comedian' was originally shot on video and transferred to 35 MM film, a fact that accounts for the dark, blurry, grainy quality of the picture. Most of the film's time is spent backstage with the comics as they air their views on their chosen profession, their colleagues, their personal idols, their various demons, their need to perform, their drive for perfection and their harsh, overly critical evaluation of their own skills and talents that often lead them into bouts of serious depression (Adams seems particularly prone to such reactions). These scenes are interspersed with brief snippets of some of their stand-up routines, which, surprisingly, seem rather devoid of laughs (Seinfeld has always struck me as more funny on his TV series than he ever has been on stage). One also notices that the world of the stand-up comedian in this film is strictly an Old Boys Club. Perhaps, we will one day be treated to a sequel entitled `Comedienne' to give the distaff side of the profession its due.
`Comedian' is a very short film it runs a mere 81 minutes and, as a result, it feels a little superficial at times and even truncated at the end. We would like to see a bit more of the lives of these two men Adams, in particular, seems to disappear from the film a bit prematurely but it is a must-see for anyone interested in this unusual branch of the entertainment field. The film will make you view stand-up comedy in a whole new light.
My first memory of this movie's release was seeing its trailer poster -
an intrusive billboard-sized mural in Mid-town Manhattan. It pictured
Jerry Seinfeld awkwardly striding across a city street in a suit,
microphone and stand in tow. The poster told me 'here is a superstar, a
living legend of the small screen, stripped of his entourage of
writers; stripped of his supporting cast of characters, his Kramers and
Costanzas; sent to live among us once again and say I bet I can make
you laugh.' I remember thinking 'I bet you can't' as I descended into
Perhaps I was harsh. But watching "Comedian" I learned I pale in comparison to the comic's toughest audience: himself. "Comedian" gives us a taste of the life that exists between 20 minute sets; the intimate moments of a seasoned stand-up comic, earning his weight in laughs. The movie could work on its own as a story about the unique turns that lie in wait of one pursuing a profession in comedy. But what makes "Comedian" special is the voyeuristic quality of its backdrop. We're used to Jerry Seinfeld's Seinfeld. Here we see Jerry Seinfeld's Jerry, a cool if not sometimes meekly understated professional who still gets the jitters before taking the stage at unknown Midwestern laugh-ins. "Comedian" pulls the celebrity curtain down, serving us fizzy gin and tonics with Rocks and Romanos on the side. The movie makes you feel like you are at your home town's shadiest club and comic greats are eating peanuts just a few bar stools away. Silently we mutter 'sure Jerry is performing a set tonight, but not before I buy him a cocktail.' If the movie works, we believe that Jerry Seinfeld is a working man - and we're nervous for him. Our hero, off to slay a dragon each night he performs. We wish him luck on the road, one he navigates in a beamer.
Afterword: "Comedy" is refreshing in its suggestion that accomplished stars can be working stiffs too, if their star hangs from a comic cellar's rafter. To wit, Chris Rock recounts a cutting-edge set he caught recently at a theater in Newark, N.J. The comic was a long-time favorite of his, but he didn't recognize most of the jokes. He delivered a 2 1/2 hour, uninterrupted set, a task regarded by Seinfeld in the movie as a "physical feat." The man was killing the crowd (along with Chris) with brand new material he had never heard. His name was Bill Cosby.
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