Week in Review
Everyone loves a good joke. Whether it's at the bar over beers, or by the coffee maker in the break room, people will always listen to a good joke. We all like to laugh, to the point where some people make their livings as comedians, telling jokes in nightclubs every night of the week. We all know some person who we think is hilarious, and why couldn't that person make it as a professional standup comic? This week, I watched Comedians of Comedy: Live at the El Rey, which showed five comics in the prime of their careers cutting it up in Los Angeles. But it's a mystery to most of us how these people go from being our funny friend in the high school cafeteria doing impressions of the principal to being our favorite comedian with a half hour special on HBO. For this week, I've picked out seven films that show us the behind-the-scenes lives of professional funny people.
This is an extremely sad film about the rise and fall of one of the most inspiring comics ever: Lenny Bruce. Dustin Hoffman plays Bruce, in that era of his brilliance from 1967-1977. It's prime Hoffman. This film won six Oscar nominations. Bob Fosse directed and gave the film a unique look, in stark black and white.
Man on the Moon
Jim Carrey recreates classic Andy Kaufman's sketches to perfection. Hardcore comedy nerds had some problems with this film, but if you're unfamiliar with Kaufman's bizarre life, this is a good starting point to understand the weird world of an enigmatic comic. Much of Andy's work is available on DVD; various specials and films he made are still around.
Fresh on the scene from one of the most successful sitcoms of all time, Jerry Seinfeld shows the process of putting together a whole new stand-up show. He takes us from tiny clubs in the wee hours to seeing Bill Cosby in a full auditorium. To contrast with Jerry's reentry into the comedy world, club hack Orny Adams tries to work his way to his first success. At first Orny is obnoxious. But soon, he's the kind of obnoxious you love to hate. Be sure not to miss a second viewing with Seinfeld's priceless commentary track.
Comedians of Comedy
I've been following Patton Oswalt's career since the early '90s. He was one of my favorites then, and he's only gotten better. For a change from the standard comedy clubs, Patton took himself and three of his friends on the road, touring through rock clubs across the country. This is the only film I can think of that attempts to capture the feeling of the long drives between towns, and the life that happens in the 22 hours the comics are not in the clubs.
Sally Field plays a housewife who wants something more out of her life. She ventures into the world of comedy clubs and befriends Tom Hanks, a bitter, jaded perfomer, who shows her the ropes. John Goodman plays Fields' unsupportive husband. It's a little sappy, but I find myself turning to it whenever I see it on cable.
When Stand Up Stood Out
This documentary looks at the Boston comedy scene, when the heart of it was not a comedy club, but a Chinese restaurant. In the early '80s, there weren't as many rules to the form, nor were there very many comedy clubs, but there were a lot of creative, talented people and way too much substance abuse. Lenny Clarke, Denis Leary, Bob Goldthwait and Steven Wright all came from this era. When Steven is selected to be on The Tonight Show the scene blows wide open.
The Dark Backward
This is sadly not available on DVD, but you can "save" it on Netflix so you will know when it is released. Judd Nelson plays a young man who is the unfunniest open mike comic in town. Things get weird when he grows a third arm out of his back. Yes, you read that right. It's a very surreal film, and captures stage failure like no other film.
Pick of the Week
I passed on My Name is Earl for a long time. I don't enjoy most of the major network sitcoms, but after recently giving positive reviews to the American version of The Office, I got several recommendations to watch this one. Trusting my persnickety friends, I queued up season one, and watched it. I loved it.
Jason Lee plays Earl, who has a spiritual awakening and decides to rectify his moral karma. The trouble is, Earl was a very bad man. He has a list of over 200 bad things he has done, and each episode is a hilarious reveal about his criminal background. Earl's exploits in the underworld are funny, but what it takes to make up for crimes long since committed is even more enjoyable.
The show is filmed somewhat like Malcolm in the Middle; it's not the standard fake house set used in many sitcoms. Jaime Pressly steals every scene she's in.
I missed a day of mail for Thanksgiving, but I had my timing down and it didn't hurt me. I crossed the magic barrier of 9 DVDs per week. I have five weeks to go, and I'm feeling good about finishing up. 11 DVDs this week. 455 DVDs in 330 days. 45 DVDs left in the next 35 days for a pace of 8.99 per week. Total Viewing Time: 32 days, 20 hours, 11 minutes