A survey of the world of stand-up comedy, through the eyes of a veteran returning to the stage.
Dir. Jordan Brady, 2010, 87 min, Viewed via Netflix Instant
If you’re looking to be at all surprised by anything that goes on in the stand-up comedy business, you’ll have to go elsewhere. I Am Comic confirms pretty much every stereotype about comics that you can think of. Apparently, they really are, by their own admissions, a bunch of maladjusted, insecure, drug-addled people willing to do a ton of thankless work for awful pay. Good to have that cleared up!
But seriously, this documentary is an entertaining, informative look at this world, the trade in its own words. Director Jordan Brady assembles a murderer’s row of great talent past and present, including Louis C.K., Phyllis Diller, Sarah Silverman, Jim Gaffigan, and Bobcat Goldthwait. There’s also a bunch of terrible people like Tim Allen, Carlos Mencia, Carrot Top, Jeff Foxworthy, and Kathy Griffin, but their terribleness at the job doesn’t invalidate their experiences in the field.
The movie moves extremely quickly from subject to subject, spreading over what seems like the whole breadth of what stand-up entails. Joke construction, delivery styles, audience control, life on the road, making it big, and so on and so forth. It’s very much surface level exploration, as if the film is a Jesus lizard running over the pond of stand-up, touching on everything but never sinking in (I apologize for this awful metaphor). If you follow me at all, you’ll notice that I’ve leveled this criticism at more than a few movies. The fact is that it makes your work feel light at best and downright wisp-like at worst.
Brady, an occasional stand-up himself, constructs a loose backbone of a story by following Ritch Shydner, a comedian who’s been out of the game for over a decade. Ritch originally sets out on their cross-country trip as just an interviewer, but he slowly finds himself being drawn back into the business. It’s a great hook, but the doc doesn’t make much of it. I have no idea what the difference is, in terms of style, content, or what have you, between the time that Ritch was active and the scene today. The shallow approach means that we can’t contextualize Ritch’s experience as much as we need to in order to fully get behind him. Plus the journey itself is so half-developed that I found no investment in it at all.
But really, the most important question for any documentary about comedy is this: is it funny? Yes, this is a funny movie. These people aren’t in “big joke” mode, so much as they are in “shoot the shit backstage” mode, so there probably won’t be many big belly laughs, but it’s entertaining throughout. The good comedians are good as usual, the bad comedians are bad as usual. But a good time should be had. At the very least, no one devolves into moaning about how mean critics are to them.