DID YOU READ

Five Funny Documentaries About Stand-Up Comedians

Five Funny Documentaries About Stand-Up Comedians (photo)

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With a new documentary about the life of Bill Hicks opening in New York City this weekend, it seemed like a good time to dig deeper into the world of documentaries about stand-up comedians. And, pending an thorough examination, this is what we found: there aren’t a lot of good ones. Obviously there are plenty of concert films of stand-ups, just not a ton of docs about stand-ups, and most of the ones that do exist aren’t very good. “American,” which is smartly edited and constructed, is a fine exception. Here are five more:


“The Comedians of Comedy” (2005)
Directed by Michael Blieden

As “The Comedians of Comedy” opens, Patton Oswalt talks about one of the worst gigs of his life: Yuk-A-Buck Night, six comedians, six bucks, one comedy club. Places like that Yuk-A-Buck joint, with their lowest common denominator expectations and two drink minimums, are the reason Oswalt gathered together Brian Posehn, Maria Bamford, and Zach Galifianakis for a tour of indie rock clubs in the Pacific Northwest. The crowd at these clubs is younger, smarter, and a whole lot more receptive to weirdness and experimentation. Appropriately enough, weirdness and experimentation also happen to be the key ingredients of Michael Blieden’s “Comedians of Comedy” documentary. Sprinkled between the performances and slice of life on the road scenes are all sorts of quirky digressions, like the sequence where Galifianakis and Posehn entertain themselves in a hotel by creating a softcore porn parody. It’s exactly the sort of film you’d want to see about these off-kilter comics: loose, personal, and unconventional. In one of the funniest bits (that I can put on an all-ages website without fear of getting a concerned email from my boss), Galifianakis expounds on his theory of comedy.


“Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work” (2010)
Directed by Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg

You look at Joan Rivers’ crazy face, which at this point resembles an over-stuffed beanbag chair, and you wonder “What makes a person do that to themselves?” “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work” provides the answer. The film shows just how tough the entertainment business can be for an aging star, even a famous and successful one. For Rivers, the scariest sight in the world is an empty calendar, and at the start of this documentary, her calendar is looking mighty empty. With her career at a low ebb, Rivers hustles for gigs, and you really come to appreciate how much work ethic matters in the stand-up comedy game. Someone without Rivers’ drive to succeed would have quit long ago. But she’s still working, still playing two or three shows a night, still pulling that face ever tighter so she can keep competing in this screwy, youth-obsessed world.

“I Am Comic” (2010)

Directed by Jordan Brady

It’s generous to call “I Am Comic” a “documentary” — it’s basically a plotless collection of interviews with stand-up comedians. But man, what a plotless collection of interviews with stand-up comedians. The topics are fascinating, the anecdotes are candid, and the cast, from Louis C.K. to Larry Miller to Tim Allen is impressive (and not as middle-aged and white, as that sample makes it seem). Amongst the details of a stand-up’s life revealed herein: that many comedy clubs buy condos to put up visiting comics rather than paying for their hotel rooms (and that some comedians have a reputation for contaminating these condos with their filth). No overarching message or theme here, just an awesome assortment of stories. Did you know that Sarah Silverman’s most famous joke (“I was licking jelly off of my boyfriend’s penis and all of a sudden I’m thinking, ‘Oh My God, I’m turning into my mother!'”) was written by another woman who thought it’d be better suited to Silverman’s act? Well now you do.


“Comedian” (2002)
Directed by Christian Charles

There’s only 2 things that could drive a man as successful as Jerry Seinfeld back into a comedy club: a love of comedy or a total addiction to it. “Comedian” explores how both passion and obsession fuel Seinfeld’s return to stand-up after he retired the 20-year-old act that had helped inspire his classic sitcom. Seinfeld’s attempt to regain his chops as a working comic is like watching a great athlete try to come back from retirement — the instincts are still there but the muscles are out of shape. “Comedian”‘s counterpoint to Seinfeld is a young stand-up named Orny Adams, who’s got all the tools but a different sort of hunger. Adams is a smart guy with good material and a terrible attitude. He’s got no love, except for himself, and not much of an addiction either — if Adams got his own sitcom tomorrow, he probably wouldn’t set foot in a comedy club again. Part of what I love about “Comedian” is the way it illustrates the fundamental meritocracy of comedy through the contrast between Seinfeld and Adams. Jerry’s doing it for the thrill and the pleasure; Orny’s doing it for the chance at celebrity and money. And when they get onstage, that’s all totally irrelevant. The only thing matters is their material. For Adams, stand-up comedy is a means to an end. For Seinfeld, it’s a way of life and will be for as long as he can do it, either because he loves it or because he doesn’t know how to stop.


“Vince Vaughn’s Wild West Comedy Show” (2006)
Direced by Ari Sandel

The stand-up comedy in “Vince Vaughn’s Wild West Comedy Show” isn’t always that great, which, counterintuitively, is exactly why this stand-up documentary is worth watching. All the other films on this list celebrate the titans of the industry. “Vince Vaughn’s…” is one of the few to pay homage to the working comedian, the regular stiff who spends 200 nights a year on the road struggling with cranky crowds and lukewarm material. In 2005, Vaughn decided to pack four comedians into a bus and tour the country for thirty shows in thirty days. The comics he chose aren’t fantastic — the best of the bunch is John Caparulo, who now appears regularly on “Chelsea Lately” — but it’s fascinating to watch them struggle and self-doubt (the interviews are surprisingly candid). They make for a great comparison with Vaughn, the established movie star who coasts along on his charm and stage presence. Some nights the guys kill, and other nights they don’t. Either way, they keep plugging along. In a comedy club, a comic who doesn’t get laughs is a failure, end of story. In a documentary, a comic who doesn’t get laughs is an opportunity to consider why some people feel a need to essentially martyr themselves for our pleasure.


For Further Viewing: “The Aristocrats,” about jokes and joketelling, “Super High Me,” about the role of drugs in stand-up, “Why We Laugh,” about the history of African-American comedy, “Goodnight, We Love You,” about the life of comedienne Phyllis Diller, and “Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project” about the famous insult comic.

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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