DID YOU READ

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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Inauguration Alternative

Bill Murray On Repeat

It's a movie "Murray-thon" all-day Friday on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs courtesy of GIPHY

Democrats, Republicans and Millennials agree: 2017 is shaping up to be a spectacle — a spectacle that really kicks into high gear this Friday with the presidential inauguration. Not only will the new POTUS swear in, but all the Country’s highest offices will be filled. It’s a daunting prospect, and to feel a little anxious about it is only normal. But if your anxiety is snowballing into panic, we have a solution:
Bill Murray.

He’s the human embodiment of a mental “Happy Place”, and there’s really no problem he can’t solve. So, with that in mind, how about we all set aside reality for a moment and let Bill take the pain away by imagining a top-shelf White House cabinet filled exclusively by his signature characters. Here are a few hypothetical appointments for your consideration…

Secretary of Defense:
Bill Murray from Stripes

His incompetence is balanced by charm, and dumb luck is inexplicably on his side. America could do worse.

Secretary of State:
Bill Murray from Lost In Translation

A seasoned globetrotter steeped in regional traditions who has the respect of the whole wide world. And he kills Costello in karaoke, which is very important.

Press Secretary:
Bill Murray from Ghostbusters

“Cats and dogs, living together. Mass hysteria.” Dude knows how to brief a room.

Secretary of Health and Human Services:
Bill Murray from What About Bob.

A doctor-approved people person who knows that progress is measured in baby steps.

Secretary of Energy:
Bill Murray from Groundhog Day

Let’s be honest, this world is going to need a lot of do-overs.

Feeling better? Hold on to that bliss. And enjoy a healthy alternative to the inauguration brouhaha with multiple Murrays all Friday long in an IFC movie marathon including Kingpin, Zombieland, Ghostbusters, and Ghostbusters II.

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Home Run

Hank Azaria Gets Thrown A Curve Ball

Brockmire Premieres April 5 at 10P

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection

Unless you’ve somehow missed every episode of the Simpsons since 1989, then surely you know that Hank Azaria is one of the most important character actors of our time. He’s so prolific and his voice is so dynamic that he’s responsible for more iconic personalities than most folks realize. Basically, he’s the great and powerful Oz — except that when you pull back the curtain the truth is actually more impressive. And now Hank is coming to IFC to bring yet another character to the TV pop culture hive mind in the new series Brockmire. Check out the trailer below.

Based on the following Funny or Die short and co-starring Amanda Peet, Brockmire follows the story of imploded major league sportscaster Jim Brockmire as he tries to resurrect his career by calling plays for a floundering minor league team in a podunk town.

The series is written by Joel Church-Cooper (Undateable) and produced by Funny or Die’s Mike Farah and Joe Farrell, meaning that there’s funny in front of the camera, funny behind the camera–funny all around. Sounds like a ball to us.

Brockmire premieres April 5 at 10P on IFC.

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Car Notes

Portlandia On People Who Can’t Park

Portlandia returns tonight at 10P on IFC.

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If flagrant bad parking takes nerve, then retaliatory note writing takes neuroses. Watch Fred and Carrie take passive aggression to next level in Car Notes, the new Portlandia web series presented by Subaru. The first episode is yours right here and now, and you can see every installment of Car Notes anytime online, on the IFC app and on demand.

Portlandia returns tonight at 10P on IFC.

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