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10 great documentaries about comedians


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6. “Comedian”

One of Jerry Seinfeld’s first post-sitcom efforts followed him as he returned to the craft which made him famous – stand-up. This documentary not only tracks his progress as he hammers out new material in small clubs whenever he can, it also shows us a rising unknown comic named Orny Adams as his abrasive, self-centered show business ambition too often eclipses the work itself – not to mention any bridges he might try to build with anyone who might actually get him a leg up. It’s an interesting examination of how the process of the art form is the same whether you’re an up-and-comer or an established icon. You still have to write the jokes, and you still have to bomb in front of strangers to find out which jokes are the good ones.

Order “Comedian” on Amazon

7. “The Aristocrats”

You hear a lot of horror stories about comedians behind-the-scenes, but come on, these guys are comics. The salacious stuff can’t possibly outweigh the hilarious stuff. The truest test of a comedian is whether or not he can make other comedians laugh, which should be impossible since they know all the tricks of the trade. One way they’ve done it for decades is with “The Aristocrats,” a joke where the punchline doesn’t matter, but where the set-up is extemporaneously exaggerated to mind-bogglingly filthy extremes. Penn Jillette and Paul Provenza did an entire film about it, getting as many comedians as he could to tell their version of the schtick. It’s the very definition of comedy gold.

Order “The Aristocrars” on Amazon

8. “Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop”

This is a very unique film that captures a very specific moment in a comedian’s career where all of his lifelong dreams have been suddenly and harshly ripped from his grasp, and he’s left adrift to figure out what’s next. Conan O’Brien managed to become the host of “The Tonight Show,” only to be given the boot once NBC decided to give it right back to Jay Leno, who had rethought his decision to retire. We’ve all heard that whole rigamarole, but this doc shows us the aftermath while following his impromptu Legally Prohibited From Being Funny On Television traveling road show tour. Ultimately, it also shows us how O’Brien’s philosophy of hard work and kindness over cynicism and bitterness help him through this depressing, frustrating period in his life.

Watch “Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop” on Netflix

9. “Second City: The First Family of Comedy”

The improv troupe Second City has been the breeding ground for many of the most famous comedians in the world, and they had a highly influential television show all their own with “SCTV.” This three-part documentary gives us the origins of the theater and its expansion, as well as the story of “SCTV” and the monumentally successful careers of alumni, such as half of everybody who’s ever been on “Saturday Night Live.”

Watch “Second City: The First Family of Comedy” on iTunes

10. “I Am Comic”

So many documentaries can turn out to be dreary affairs, focusing on the tragedies of the world or the dark strife in someone’s life. Jordan Brady’s Slamdance doc is not that. The subtitle is “An Ode To The Art & Occupational Hazards of Stand-Up Comedy,” and that’s what it is. We follow retired stand-up Ritch Shydner as he tries to return to performing after a decade away, but we also get all sorts of insights about the job itself from a wide range of great comics. From Roseanne Barr revealing her rush of getting her first laughter to Louis CK talking about how much he hates hecklers, it’s a movie about the art of the joke and the drive all these talented performers have to keep coming back to it, despite the pitfalls of the business. Plus, it’s really funny.

Watch “I Am Comic” on iTunes

What is your favorite comedy documentary? Tell us in the comments section below or on Facebook and Twitter.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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