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When Stand Up Stood Out (2003)

R | | Documentary, Comedy
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Documentary covering what came to be known as "The Boston Gold Rush" of the late 1970s and early 1980s, when Boston stand-up comedians like Dennis Leary, Steven Wright and Colin Quinn burst... See full summary »

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Documentary covering what came to be known as "The Boston Gold Rush" of the late 1970s and early 1980s, when Boston stand-up comedians like Dennis Leary, Steven Wright and Colin Quinn burst upon the national scene, giving audiences a taste of the hard-edged social and political commentary that came out of that city. Written by frankfob2@yahoo.com

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Rated R for language and some drug content
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More "Old Home Week" than documentary
29 April 2010 | by (Waterloo, Iowa) – See all my reviews

When Stand Up Stood Out purports to tell the story of the Boston stand up comedy scene from the late 70s through the late 80s, but it really never rises above a guy looking back at his glory years.

Fran Solomita was one of those Boston comics and he starts out this film by justifying it. Solomita references the comedy club explosion of the 80s and says it was due to the emergence of an aggressive comedy sub-culture in Boston, but he never provides any evidence or reasoning for that assertion. The film never really examines its subject matter in any real way, or tries to actually tell us what Boston stand up comedy became in that era and why it did and didn't succeed. There's no real narrative or insight to this documentary. It's just the collected reminiscing of the comics from that span of time.

When Stand Up Stood Out focuses on a few individual subjects and intersperses that with brief asides. The main subjects are the Ding Ho, an infamous Boston comedy club that operated out of a Chinese restaurant, and Lenny Clarke, who is cast as the heart and soul of Boston comedy. If you want to hear a lot of stories about those two things and the people who orbited around them, you'll get it. If you're looking to understand any of it, you'll be left out in the cold. Watching this film is a bit like going to your spouse's high school reunion. You watch a bunch of other people tell a bunch of stories that you've never heard, and you feel excluded.

There are a few moments in the film when it seems like Solomita is trying to get beyond the "Old Home Week" stuff. Janeane Garafolo shows up a few times and tries to get under the surface of Boston comedy, but she clearly wasn't a significant part of the era being focused on and her inclusion seems like Solomita did it just because he got to interview her.

Ultimately, the film raises more questions than it answers. Why did Boston stand up comedy become such a potent force so quickly? What sort of an environment produces both the cerebral Stephen Wright and the boorishly aggressive Lenny Clarke? What role did the overwhelmingly white, male, catholic nature of Boston stand up comics play in shaping their material and performing style? Why did some Boston comedians succeed nationally and others not?

When Stand Up Stood out is almost like a prologue to a better documentary coming at some point in the future. It doesn't do much on its own but it does whet your appetite for even more.


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