I Am Comic
by Jef Burnham
Available October 12, 2010 on DVD from Monterey Media Inc.
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This ambitious documentary about the whys and hows of being a standup comic by director/developer Jordan Brady and writer/narrator Ritch Shydner (former comics themselves) is extremely fun, funny, and fascinating, if extremely unfocused as well. With over 80 comics chiming in on a wide variety of subjects from why they became comics in the first place to hecklers to the worst gigs they ever had, I Am Comic is pretty much guaranteed to have something for virtually every standup fan. Among the comics featured in the film are: Louis C.K., Sarah Silverman, Janeane Garofalo, Larry Miller, Jeff Foxworthy, Jim Gaffigan, Tim Allen, Dave Attell, Carrot Top, Kathy Griffin, Tommy Davidson, Roseanne Barr, Todd Glass, Nick Kroll, Carlos Mencia, Phyllis Diller and, of course, some 70 others (though in retrospect I don’t seem to recall Patton Oswalt being among them, which saddens me).
Early on in the documentary, Brady joins forces with Shydner, a former standup star of the 1980s with a number of HBO specials and other television appearances under his belt (including spots on Carson, Letterman, etc.). Shydner, now a comedy historian, serves thereafter as the film’s narrator, and all-around comic guru, though later he becomes one of the film’s dominant subjects. The most personally engaging portion of the film finds Shydner unable to remain on the sidelines of comedy any more, alighting the stage for the first time in 13 years. The sequences surrounding his return to the stage give a first-hand look at just how hard it is to be funny and keep going, and even improve, after a disappointment.
Now, although the film is hilarious and engaging throughout, I Am Comic is, as previously mentioned, severely lacking in focus. The film is vaguely about standup comedy, covering pretty much everything there is to cover about the subject in short, 30 second to 4 minute chunks, with no real thesis to speak of (unless you’ll accept “Standup comedy is” as a thesis). Bear in mind, the film’s tendency to prematurely abort a topic isn’t preventing me from recommending the picture. But it should be mentioned that many portions of the film leave you wanting so much more than Brady delivers, such as the sections on hecklers and “Hell gigs,” which are criminally short.
Though certainly a flawed film, I Am Comic is a seriously good time. And some of its deficiencies are actually compensated for in the DVD’s special features, which provide us with precious additional morsels from Miller, Garofalo, Foxworthy and others. But the best of the special features BY FAR is called “Prom Gig from Hell” in which Larry Miller and Todd Glass tell the story of a gig-gone-wrong Glass set up for Miller in the beginning of their careers (and this is in addition to a Hell gig detailed by Miller in the film itself). “Prom Gig from Hell” is in fact one of the best stories I’ve ever heard about the standup scene, and as told by Miller, it’s a damn riot.
So if you’ve the remotest interest in standup comedy, check out I Am Comic on DVD and don’t forget to watch the special features!
Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.
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