10 great documentaries about comedians


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The life of a stand-up comedian is an interesting one. On the surface, it seems like a hell of a good time, getting up on stage and making people laugh, but dig a little deeper, and you find out that there’s a lot of hard work, repetitive toil and frustrating failures behind every comic who makes it to the television screen. Dig even further, and you start to see some of the psychological issues that drive people to dedicate their professional lives to drawing attention to themselves and fighting for the approval of strangers. It’s such a visceral, validating experience to tell a room full of strangers things you came up with and make them all laugh, and that’s the foundation of every great comic’s story. There are plenty of funny movies, and plenty of stand-up concert films, but here’s a list of 10 documentaries that went about the difficult task of trying to get a real sense of what it’s like to be a professional comedian – be they profiles of legends of the industry or examinations of the process of jokesmithing.

1. “Looking for Lenny”

Lenny Bruce is universally regarded as the man who opened the door for every stand-up comedian you’ve ever heard of. In fact, he’s a pioneer of the entire art form, and he paid the price for it. He came up in the 1950s, and his disregard for censorship and hypocrisy made him a target for the cultural crusaders who wanted to brand his act obscene and constantly arrest him for performing at all. The result was groundbreaking, pushing the social boundaries of a closed-off era, but also a personal descent into self-destructive behavior, paranoia and an eventual early death.

Watch “Looking for Lenny” on Netflix

2. “Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project”

Speaking of legendary performers who trucked in social taboos, there isn’t really another comic like Rickles. He hung out with the Rat Pack and charges people money to insult them in some of the most offensive ways he can think of, and ethnicity is never off-limits. In fact, you can bet that’ll be the first thing he brings up. John Landis directed this look at the long career of the man known as “Mr. Warmth,” and it’s chock full of wild stories from a revered age of show business.

Watch “Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project” on Netflix

3. “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work”

She wasn’t always that woman tearing apart people’s clothing choices – Joan Rivers was a trailblazer for female comedians everywhere, and this Sundance award-winning doc is an unflinching look at her long career, her relationship with Johnny Carson and how hard she’s still driven to work, insisting that she’ll never turn an job down. It’s a tribute to her longevity as much as it is a heartbreaking depiction of how show business really works, and it’s not really all that glamorous.

Watch “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work” on Netflix

4. “Why We Laugh”

Robert Townsend’s 1987 comedy “Hollywood Shuffle” was a biting satire of the Hollywood experience for black actors, but he’s always been one to strive for positivity over despair. Thus, this Sundance documentary about the history and necessity of black comedy accentuates the positive when too much media attention can get focused on the negative. Redd Foxx, Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby, Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock and many more are examined within their cultural context as well as their lasting legacies.

Watch “Why We Laugh” on Netflix

5. “American: The Bill Hicks Story”

The brightness of this counterculture comic burned out far too early due to his death from pancreatic cancer in 1994, but Bill Hicks’ ferocious brand of heated satirical rage definitely made its mark – just ask Denis Leary. One could easily call him the Lenny Bruce of his time, and his on-stage monologues would often veer off into uncharted audience-challenging territory. This doc offers some slick animation and a lot of archival footage to craft a powerful tribute to a very volatile voice which gave us uncomfortable truths about the world at large, as well as perspectives on drugs we might never have considered before.

Watch “American: The Bill Hicks Story” on Netflix

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D Gets Animated

Hit the Road to Festival Supreme with Tenacious D’s New Animated Shorts

Festival Supreme hits Los Angeles Saturday, October 10th.

Tenacious D Animated

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Tenacious D is very animated about this year’s Festival Supreme, which returns to Los Angeles for a third awesome year on Saturday, October 10th. With a line-up that includes Amy Poehler, The Kids in the Hall, a Mystery Science Theater 3000 reunion, Aubrey Plaza, The Darkness and many more, can you blame them?

Now all they have to do is get to Festival Supreme in time to get the party started. And you can follow along as Tenacious D hit the road in a new animated mini-series.

In episode one, tragedy strikes when The D finds out the IFC jet has been double booked. (Maron strikes again!) How will they get to Festival Supreme now?

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As the dynamic duo makes their way to California, someone crashes their road trip—literally.

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The Kids in the Hall may have forgotten to get their passports, but that will never stop them from making it to Los Angeles’ Shrine Expo Hall & Grounds by Saturday, October 10th.

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Will the gang be able to make it to Festival Supreme in time? Watch below, and be sure to grab tickets and follow IFC on Twitter for more updates on Festival Supreme 2015.

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Todd Margaret Sneak Peek

Get a Sneak Peek of Todd Margaret Season 3 at New York Comic Con

Todd Margaret returns January 7th, 2016 at 10P on IFC.

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Before Todd Margaret returns to IFC for a third season on Thursday, January 7th, he is taking over New York Comic Con the same way he took over the London office of Thunder Muscle energy drink.

Get ready for the comeback to end all comebacks, because Todd Margaret (David Cross), is back, three years after he blew up the world and he has the panel at NY Comic Con to prove it. On Friday, October 9th at 5:30 PM, stop by Room 1A10 at the Javits Center in New York City for IFC Presents Todd Margaret: A Sneak Peek at the Return of a Cult Hit and watch the first two episodes of the brand new season.

As fans of the series know, total chaos ensued when bumbling American Todd Margaret was sent to London to promote Thunder Muscle. The result was the end of the world, but somehow Todd survived. He’s returning for a third season, but there’s a twist: he’s a very, very different Todd.

See how it all plays out at this sneak peek screening at New York Comic Con before the new season premieres on IFC in 2016. And check back for more updates on the return of Todd Margaret.

That 70s show

That '70s Facts

10 Things You Didn’t Know About That ’70s Show

Catch That '70s Show Mondays & Tuesdays from 6-11P on IFC.

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Every That ’70s Show fan has a favorite character, favorite episode, or even a favorite “Circle” moment. But how well do you know the show? Check out some interesting facts about the series and the Wisconsin gang.

1. Chuck Norris Almost Played Red Forman

Red That 70s Show

We said everyone has a favorite character, and let’s be honest: it’s Red. And Red almost had the ability to lay out Hyde with a swift roundhouse kick to the head. Chuck Norris was considered for the role of Eric’s dad, but was unavailable due to filming Walker, Texas Ranger, opening the part for Kurtwood Smith’s incomparable portrayal.

2. Mila Kunis lied about her age to get the role of Jackie.

That 70s Show Jackie

Snotty (but surprisingly smart) Jackie propelled Mila Kunis to stardom. She got the part by being perfect for it, and by playing older than she actually was. Auditioning at age 14, she told the producers that “I’ll be 18 on my birthday,” neglecting to mention said birthday was still four years away. Having an actual teenager play a television teenager for once is a nice novelty.

3. The show was almost named after a Who song.

That 70s Show Theme

A ’70s-set sitcom couldn’t help but be defined by music, but That ’70s Show was legally forced into its final name. Early ideas included “Teenage Wasteland” and “The Kids Are Alright,” but pressure from The Who’s lawyers forced the creators to come up with something better. At which point they found that test viewers had already given it the wonderfully self-aware name.

4. “The Circle” was a way to get around censors.

The show’s trademark camera spin was a powerful comedic tool for endless one-liners and honest moments where the characters talked directly to the camera. Most importantly, it allowed the show to make it clear the characters were totally baked while never showing them actually smoking pot.

5. Leo Was Really Arrested For Drug Charges

Leo That 70s Show

Hyde’s drug-inspired boss Leo incarnated the ’70s stoner culture on several levels. Not only was he played by the iconic Tommy Chong, but he disappeared from the series for a while because he was serving a jail sentence for selling drug paraphernalia. It was such a natural chain of events, Tommy was surprised they didn’t write it into the show.

6. You can blame a movie for Blonde Donna.

Blonde Donna

Blonde Donna 2

Donna claimed she dyed her hair blonde after her marriage to Eric was called off. But the truth is Laura Prepon went blonde for the lead role in the 2006 psychological thriller Karla.

7. Topher Grace was discovered in a high school play.

Eric That 70s show

Topher Grace got his start in show business after That ’70s Show creators Bonnie and Terry Turner saw him in their daughter’s high school play. We assume he wasn’t constantly called “dumbass” in the play, but he wowed the Turners just the same.

8. Red really is from the “Craphole” state.

Red That 70s show

Kurtwood Smith is the only actor from Wisconsin, where the show is set. In fact, Red Forman is even more authentically Wisconson-ian, being based on Smith’s stepfather, who passed away shortly before the pilot was filmed. Yes, there actually was a real Red.

9. Josh Meyers was originally going to play Eric after Topher Grace left the show.

Josh meyers that 70s show

Josh Meyers, brother of Seth Meyers, was hired to replace Topher Grace, who’d left the series to fight Spider-Man on the big screen. Eric’s suddenly different appearance was going to be explained by the changing effects of coming back from his trip to Africa as a newly grown man, but the writers eventually ditched this ludicrous idea. Instead we got Randy Pearson, a fusion of Eric’s snarky humor and Kelso’s way with the ladies.

10. Eric’s Vista Cruiser license plate marks the passage of time.

That 70s show license plate

That ’70s Show almost lasted an entire decade with eight seasons, but it only took up four years of fictional time. And you can tell what year each episode takes place in by the license plate at the end of the theme song.

That 70s Show Fez

Fez Fever!

Think You Know Fez? Take This Quiz!

Catch That '70s Show Mondays and Tuesdays from 6-11P ET/PT.

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Fez played the role of the outsider on That ’70s Show, but was quickly welcomed into the Circle. How deeply have you accepted Fez into your life? Click below to start the quiz and find out!


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