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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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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

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

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.