Over fifty very famous American, Canadian, British and Australian funny people (filmmakers, writers, actors and comedians) share life and professional journeys and insights, in an effort to shed light on the thesis: Do you have to be miserable to be funny?
A group of stand-up comics, comedic actors and comedic filmmakers are individually interviewed about different aspects of the profession especially as it relates to their personal life. The topics of questions and answers include: the relationship with their parents with regard to their comedy; why they chose what is a natural kid's path of wanting attention as a career; when and/or how they discovered how comedy really works; the rush or high of performing; the need for public adoration; the comics that they admired early in their career and what material they may have stolen from other comics; when they knew their comedy had matured to professional status; the feeling of bombing; the relationship with peers, especially in comparison to relationships with non-comics; and the process of putting in the countless hours. The ultimate question placed to them is do you have to be miserable to be funny?Written by
Kevin Pollak, one of America's most famous "that guy" actors next to the likes of Fred Stoller, is the perfect candidate to direct a documentary like Misery Loves Comedy, which examines dozens of comedians with "are comedians really miserable" as its thesis. Pollak is a man staunchly in the middle of the comedy spectrum in terms of popularity, and in this film, he interviews A-listers like Larry David, Kevin Smith, and Amy Schumer and comedians that are far more under the radar than he is. The result, while largely composed of talking heads, is an interesting exploration of a plethora of talented men and women talking about their own experiences in the field of standup comedy.
Pollak wisely breaks down and edits the film into a very clean structure, punctuated by title cards that conveniently separate the film's many topics. One of the topics is discussion of the "hey, look at me" disease, which Pollak asks the comedians if they believe is a fundamental basis of the psyche of a standup comedian. Many agree that it is, such as Amy Schumer, who claims she always demanded the center of attention at parties as a young girl, where she'd call attention to herself by telling impromptu stories. All the eyes were on her and her parents enabled the behavior by filming her and treasuring the home videos, which she claims why she loves to have everyone's eyes be fixated on what she is doing.
I've always found myself to have the "hey, look at me" disease, as well. Whether I'm at work, at school, or speaking in conversation with friends or acquaintances, I love to make people laugh and I love to command any kind of audience I can, with wit, jokes, insight, or just a lively, active conversation. While many people aren't really concerned with leaving a bombastic impression, I've always found myself to be the kind of person that really wants to leave a positive and humorous impact on the people I meet, or at least one that has people saying, "I'd like to see more of that guy." I think that can explain why doing a one-man show or a comedy special is a bucket-list item of mine.
Moreover, Pollak asks his subjects other questions, like who was their comedic influence growing up. Almost unanimously, people, both men and women, say it was their father, and the closest bouts of emotion we get in the film are when we hear from Freddie Prinze, Jr., who lost his father to suicide. Prinze gives one of the most candid and honest interviews about his late father, who was a standup comedian, that I have yet to see, talking very personally about how the fact that he has a "Jr." at the end of his name basically means he was a statue built to honor the man who came before him. You share the genetics, the blood, and even the name, one thing that's branded on you and from which you can't escape, and it feels like your ultimate purpose is to honor your father. It's something I've never heard discussed in that manner, and Prinze discusses it, in addition to his father, in a remarkably revealing and uplifting manner.
Numerous comedians deliver tidbits of insight even people who aren't aspiring comedians can find interesting, some of which about their ideology, their approach to comedy, and some about themselves stumbling into the field. Consider Nick Swardson, who admits to having a ferocious drug addiction at age fifteen before being in rehab at age sixteen. When he finally got out, he was failing school and took a theater/performing arts class to merit an easy A. When he finally got on stage, he realized he could command and control the audience, effectively replacing the drugs with comedy. Kevin Nealon, one of Swardson's collaborators and costars, even states how comedy is like a drug in itself, because during stage comedy, you're essentially giving audiences a high from what you're doing.
Other stray insights come from the likes of Kevin Smith, who told a friend contemplating suicide that there is a thing called "the talking cure," and encouraged him to come on his podcast and speak his mind. After a few recurring episodes, he felt relieved, likely because he had an outlet to voice his concerns and his criticisms with himself and life. Jim Gaffigan, emphasizing the persistent theme of comedians being narcissists, states that a comedian's job is a narcissist's ultimate fantasy, where you just expel nonsense and people listen. Finally, towards the end of the documentary, Bobby Cannavale makes the bold assertion that there is little difference between a mass murderer and a comedian; they're both equally crazy.
Misery Loves Comedy is ninety-three minutes of constant talking, perhaps adhering to the fact that comedians love to hear themselves talk by structuring the film as a nonstop assembly of babbling. The result works because Pollak never focuses for too long on one particular comedian, interviewing dozens and dozens throughout, and even introducing new faces when there's fifteen minutes left in the film. At times, the result is overbearing, mainly because the style is one that gets grating after a long period of time, but the takeaway information from many talented men and women is worth sitting for alone, and Pollak asserts himself not only as having many connections but a way to beat comedians up to get the raw truth behind them and their job.
Directed by: Kevin Pollak.
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