10 dramas about comedy


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When you go to a stand-up comedy show, you’re there to have a good time and laugh at some jokes, and if you’re a nerd about it, maybe you go to appreciate the craft. If you’re the guy on stage, though, the perspective is pretty different sometimes. There’s often an obsession at play that borders on addiction, be it to the art, to the wordplay, to the cadence of each punchline, or maybe to the attention and the spotlight. Whatever it is, the motivations behind each person getting up in front of a roomful of oft-drunk strangers to try and kill them and avoid dying makes for some interesting drama, and every once in a while, people in Hollywood try to capture that. So here’s a list of ten dramas about the world of comedy.

1. “Lenny” (1974)

Dustin Hoffman stars in this Bob Fosse film as the titular comedian of world renown, notoriety and reverence. There can never be enough said about how much of a trailblazer Lenny Bruce was, and this film, released eight years after his death, did not shy away from any of the controversies that defined his life as a crusader for free speech by way of clever, straightforward honesty, expressing himself in ways that hadn’t been heard on stage before. That kind of brazen flouting of convention came with a heavy price, to the point where it’s been said that he was arrested so often that his untimely death was caused by “an overdose of police.” This film was nominated for six Academy Awards, by the by.

2. “The King of Comedy” (1983)

A genre wouldn’t be a genre if Martin Scorsese didn’t try his hand at it, and put Robert De Niro in it. Scorsese’s take is a lot creepier than most, however, as De Niro stars as Rupert Pupkin, a really lousy stand-up comic who lives in his own fantasy world and, when he meets legendary comedian Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis) by chance, he thinks that alone is his big break. When that doesn’t turn out to be the case, Pupkin kidnaps the guy and holds him for ransom – the ransom of a TV spot. Pupkin is one of the more sympathetic psychopaths you’ll come across, and there’s some debate about how much of this film takes place in his own mind.

3. “Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling” (1986)

The icon Richard Pryor insisted that the one and only movie he directed was not autobiographical, but considering how it was the life story of a comedian who burned himself while freebasing cocaine, you have to think this drew heavily on Pryor’s real life. That incident puts Dancer in a coma, during which he reflects on his childhood in a brothel, his self-destructive life and how he got to that very low point.

4. “Punchline” (1988)

Who wouldn’t want to see Tom Hanks as a stand-up comic? He’s a natural born funnyman. In this film, he’s a med student moonlighting in the stage world, and he forms a bond with Sally Field, a housewife who’s also trying to make a go of a new career in this sort of showbiz. However, the friendship is strained when the cutthroat competition of the business gets in the way – not to mention unrequited romantic feelings – and things don’t end wonderfully for everybody.

5. “Mr. Saturday Night” (1992)

Billy Crystal made his directorial debut, giving himself the starring role as Buddy Young Jr., a hugely popular comedian with his own show in the 1950s whose career didn’t go quite the way he’d hoped, and as he aged, he also alienated everybody close to him that helped him reach the top in the first place. While it’s an interesting portrait of a celebrity past his prime, it didn’t do all that well at the box office, but David Paymer was nominated for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar.

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Weird Roles

Anthony Michael Hall’s Most Rotten Movies

Catch Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science on Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

Anthony Michael Hall was the quintessential ’80s nerd. We love him in classics like The Breakfast Club and National Lampoon’s Vacation. But even the brainiest among us has his weak spots. In honor of Weird Science airing this Rotten Friday, we analyze Hall’s worst movies.

Weird Science (1985) 56%

A low point for John Hughes, Weird Science is way too wacky for its own good. Anthony Michael Hall’s Gary and his pal Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) create the “perfect woman.” Supernatural chaos ensues. The film costars a young Bill Paxton, floppy disks, and a general disconnect from all reality.

The Caveman’s Valentine (2001) 46%

This ambitious drama starring Samuel L. Jackson couldn’t live up to its rich premise. Jackson plays Romulus, a Juilliard-educated, paranoid schizophrenic who lives in a cave. Hall co-stars as Bob, a rich man, who wants to see Romulus play the piano. The plot centers around Romulus investigating a murder, but with so much going on, the movie never quite finds its rhythm.

All About the Benjamins (2002) 30%

Ice Cube plays a bounty hunter who teams up with Mike Epps’ con man to catch diamond thieves. Hall plays Lil J, a small-time drug dealer. It’s definitely a role we’ve never seen Hall in, but overall the movie isn’t funny or original enough to justify its violence.

Freddy Got Fingered (2001) 11%

This showcase for Tom Green’s goofy gross-out comedy is often hailed as one of the worst films of all time. Green plays Gord, a 20-something slacker, who dreams of having his own animated series. Hall is Dave Davidson, a CEO of an animation studio who eventually helps Gord find success. Too bad Tom Green wasn’t so lucky.

Johnny Be Good (1988) 0%

Hall plays against type as Johnny Walker, a star quarterback. Robert Downey Jr. is his best friend and Uma Thurman plays his devoted girlfriend. Despite the support of a future A-list cast, the movie lacks central conflict and charm. Or, as TV Guide put it, “Johnny be worthless.” Ouch.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” Weird Science this Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Season 6: Episode 1: Pickathon

Binge Fest

Portlandia Season 6 Now Available On DVD

The perfect addition to your locally-sourced, artisanal DVD collection.

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End of summer got you feeling like:

Portlandia Toni Screaming GIF

Ease into fall with Portlandia‘s sixth season. Relive the latest exploits of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s cast of characters, including Doug and Claire’s poignant breakup, Lance’s foray into intellectual society, and the terrifying rampage of a tsukemen Noodle Monster! Plus, guest stars The Flaming Lips, Glenn Danzig, Louis C.K., Kevin Corrigan, Zoë Kravitz, and more stop by to experience what Portlandia is all about.

Pick up a copy of the DVD today, or watch full episodes and series extras now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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Byrning Down the House

Everything You Need to Know About the Film That Inspired “Final Transmission”

Documentary Now! pays tribute to "Stop Making Sense" this Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Cinecom/courtesy Everett Collection

This week Documentary Now! is with the band. For everyone who’s ever wanted to be a roadie without leaving the couch, “Final Transmission” pulls back the curtain on experimental rock group Test Pattern’s final concert. Before you tune in Wednesday at 10P on IFC, plug your amp into this guide for Stop Making Sense, the acclaimed 1984 Talking Heads concert documentary.

Put on Your Dancing Shoes

Hailed as one of the best concert films ever created, director Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs) captured the energy and eccentricities of a band known for pushing the limits of music and performance.

Make an Entrance

Lead singer David Byrne treats the concert like a story: He enters an empty stage with a boom box and sings the first song on the setlist solo, then welcomes the other members of the group to the stage one song at a time.

Steal the Spotlight

David Byrne Dancing
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Always a physical performer, Byrne infuses the stage and the film with contagious joy — jogging in place, dancing with lamps, and generally carrying the show’s high energy on his shoulders.

Suit Yourself

Byrne makes a splash in his “big suit,” a boxy business suit that grows with each song until he looks like a boy who raided his father’s closet. Don’t overthink it; on the DVD, the singer explains, “Music is very physical, and often the body understands it before the head.”

View from the Front Row

Stop Making Sense Band On Stage
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Demme (who also helmed 1987’s Swimming to Cambodia, the inspiration for this season’s Documentary Now! episode “Parker Gail’s Location is Everything”) films the show by putting viewers in the audience’s shoes. The camera rarely shows the crowd and never cuts to interviews or talking heads — except the ones onstage.

Let’s Get Digital

Tina Weymouth Keyboard
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Stop Making Sense isn’t just a good time — it’s also the first rock movie to be recorded entirely using digital audio techniques. The sound holds up more than 30 years later.

Out of Pocket

Talk about investing in your art: Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz told Rolling Stone that the members of the band “basically put [their] life savings” into the movie, and they didn’t regret it.

Catch Documentary Now!’s tribute to Stop Making Sense when “Final Transmission” premieres Wednesday, October 12 at 10P on IFC.

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