Misery Loves Comedy is a clever title, it turns out, because in this revue of comedians’ entry into that world—what came before—and what has happened since does reveal some of the highlights—successes and failures—that drew them like moths to a fire. Sometimes it was that they suddenly realized they could be funny and that they enjoyed the limelight. The other side is the experience of absolute failure (dead silence in the audience) and feelings of utter worthlessness. Parents’ reactions to their acts had a profound impact on them; e.g., “You can always go back to Conan, right?” or simply “Your jeans fit nice.” Rather than deterring them, such comments made the comics more determined to pursue their dreams.
For some, joking is a way of coping. Cannavale tells about getting beat up at school, and when he tells his family and they don’t have much of a response, he makes a joke, and then they laugh. Jermaine Clement says he was always laughing at his family; he loved his uncles’ jokes. Jim Norton realized that no one—even football players—bothered you if you were funny because they were afraid you might mock them. He finds making people laugh a “power thing.” Nick Swardson found that comedy took over and did for him what drugs were doing so he couldl dispense with them. After constantly failing at sports, Apatow in desperation to be socially acceptable made people laugh by pretending to be a slot machine. He’d put rocks up his nose and have people pull his arm down, whereupon the rocks would fall out of his nose.
Other times, the comedians were simply playful. Guest discovered ventriloquism, which he would do in class. The teacher didn’t know where the sound was coming from, inaccurately guessed, and made the wrong person leave the room. Apatow would take a huge recorder and wangle his way into studios to interview stars like Jerry Seinfeld.
But the comedians also talk about their craft—how important timing is, how they can predict with their “laugh ears” when a laugh is going to erupt, and how they have been inspired by those who came before (especially Lenny Bruce Richard Prior, and George Carlin). Several talk as well about the bond among comedians, how they’re drawn toward each other at gatherings and talk shop.
The film ends with a brief discussion about whether one has to be miserable to be funny. Altogether, this is an informative and interesting film that is successful in getting behind what makes us laugh at comedy—and comedians. Lovers of comedy will likely be especially drawn to this interesting and entertaining documentary.
What makes a comedian?
Grade B- By Donna R. Copeland