'Misery Loves Comedy'
Longtime comedian and character actor Kevin Pollak makes his directorial debut with this oddball, entertaining and endearing little documentary about comedy. It’s ultimately just a series of talking head interviews slammed together, yet since the heads doing the talking are comedians discussing what they do best, the movie has plenty of laughs and insights to go around.
Things start off small with the comics rattling on about their youth, which runs a gamut of experiences. Some grew up in broken homes, others in happy ones. Some were class clowns destined for the stage, others were late bloomers. It often seems as though the only thing that connects any of these weirdos is their desire to make others laugh, and perhaps that’s the point. Comedy comes from all sorts of places and serves up its snickering pleasures in all sorts of ways.
The title of Pollak’s film suggests that he went into the project with a very specific idea of what he considered to be every comedian’s origin. Whether by accident or design, he ultimately ended up with as many answers to the question of whether a comedian has to be miserable to be funny as he had comics in his film. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The joy of the movie isn’t rooted in the discovery of some sort of mysterious equation that explains what it means to be funny. It simply comes from hearing incredibly funny people talk about what it means to be funny. Tom Hanks describes his experience of doing stand-up as being like cocaine and crystal meth. (Sadly, there’s no follow-up question about how he’d know what those drugs are like). Larry David describes trying to talk his way onto the stage for the first time in a manner as painfully awkward as you’d hope. Stephen Merchant details an excruciatingly uncomfortable encounter with Steve Coogan that would be a perfect scene for one of their TV shows. Amy Schumer talks about being a hopeless ham for her family. Jimmy Fallon discusses how painfully sad and unfulfilled he can feel when he’s not on stage. Maria Bamford talks about how stand up made her comfortable enough to discuss her darkest secrets with friends. Christopher Guest admits to being an absurd public school prankster. The observations and anecdotes pile up fast and furiously. For comedy nerds, it’s a joy to hear so many stories that you’ve never heard before.
Above all else, that’s really the reason to watch ‘Misery Loves Comedy’. It’s a wonderful collection of some of the funniest people on the planet discussing their art and lives with uncomfortable honesty and a lightning quick wit. For some, that might not be enough to consider this thing a movie. For others, it’ll be a sheer joy. It’s really all a matter of taste. Ultimately, any negative reception the movie receives will be a result of timing. Even ten years ago, this would have been a fascinating peek behind the curtain into the lives of comedians. These days, at least half the podcasts on iTunes cover this sort of material on a weekly basis, so it doesn’t feel quite as special anymore. So, if you’re a comedy podcast obsessive, consider this a highlight reel of two seasons worth of in-depth podcasts condensed down to 90 minutes. If that sounds appealing, jump on board.