Misery Loves Comedy


Hanks talks comedy.

Hanks talks comedy.

(2014) Documentary (Tribeca) Freddie Prinze Jr., Amy Schumer, Tom Hanks, Jim Gaffigan, Christopher Guest, Jon Favreau, Jason Reitman, Steve Coogan, Kathleen Madigan, Martin Short, Judd Apatow, Jimmy Fallon, Andy Richter, Jim Norton, Kelly Carlin, Marc Maron, Lewis Black, Bobby Cannavale, Kevin Smith, Lisa Kudrow, Matthew Perry, Chris Hardwick, Sam Rockwell, Jemaine Clement, Greg Proopst, Kumal Nanjiani, Jimmy Pardo, Maria Bamford. Directed by Kevin Pollak

Comedy is like a drug, both to the audience and the comedian. The audience uses the jokes as a means of escaping their daily lives, a way to find insight into those lives and a way to realize that just about nothing is above laughing at or about. The comedian feeds on their laughter, the laughter a validation of their craft and indirectly of themselves.

This documentary, directed by veteran comic, actor and impressionist Pollak who never appears on-camera but can be heard conducting the interview off-camera, has more than 40 subjects many of whom are on the A-list of stand-ups and several of whom have graduated on to bigger and better things. Some of the interviewees are comic actors, others directors of comedies. There are many more interviewees than we had room for at the top of this review, with Rob Brydon, Janeane Garafalo, Whoopi Goldberg, Jim Jeffries, Robert Smigel, Larry Miller, David Koechner, Stephen Merchant, Nick Swardson, Gregg Hughes, William H. Macy and hordes of others.

The interviews don’t really go into the mechanics of comedy – putting together an act, writing jokes and so on – but more into how people become professional stand-ups. It looks at the influences of the various comics, and at what life events prompted them to become comedians. Many of the people interview have traumas at some point in their lives that prompted them to go into comedy, using standup almost as therapy.

It isn’t required for a comedian to be miserable, muses one of them, but “you have to know misery.” That makes a lot of sense when you think about it; to understand what makes people laugh you also have to understand what makes them cry. A good comedian can do both.

You do get a real sense of the insecurities that haunt a lot of the comics; they talk about what it’s like to bomb, what it’s like to kill and how comics bond together hoping that they all succeed. Nobody likes to follow a comic that bombed; the audience is less primed to laugh. When you follow someone who just killed, it’s not only easier to get the audience to laugh but they also laugh harder. Laughter multiplies exponentially.

One thing that is kind of glaring; there is only one African-American comic and no Latino comics among the forty or so interviewees and quite frankly, there’s too many interviewees to begin with. I would have liked to have seen a little more diversity in the interviews which might have given us some different perspectives. A lot of the stories the comics told about not being accepted in high school and so on were a little bit too similar; getting the perspective of minority comics might have really made for a more three-dimensional take on comedy than what we received.

Yes, there are a lot of laughs here but there are some truly affecting moments, as when Prinze talks about his father’s suicide and how it affected he and his mother. Indirectly, Prinze Junior went into stand-up mainly because his grandfather urged him to “clean up what your father effed up” which for a young kid can be kind of a daunting burden, considering the fame his dad had. Bamford also tells us about the first time she talked about her time in a mental hospital onstage, prompting others in the audience to shout out their own experiences. It must be a very powerful thing, having the ability to help others heal through the gift of laughter. It’s also a nice little grace note that the movie was dedicated to Robin Williams, whose suicide likely had people in the business thinking about the link between misery and comedy.

This isn’t a complete primer on what makes us laugh and how the people who make us laugh do it, but it does give us some insight into the mind of the standup comedian and of the others who make us laugh on the big and small screens. It is said that laughter is the best medicine; this is essentially over-the-counter stuff but it gets the job done.

REASONS TO GO: Lots of laughs as you’d expect hanging out with comedians. Powerful in places. Gives the viewer a sense of what the life of a standup comedian is like and why people do it.
REASONS TO STAY: Too many interviewees and only one African-American one and no Latinos. A little bit too scattershot.
FAMILY VALUES: Some fairly foul language and some adult comedy.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Pollak is best known for his standup routine and celebrity impressions, most notably Peter Falk and William Shatner.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/9/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 29% positive reviews. Metacritic: 50/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Aristocrats
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: The Water Diviner

Delgo


Delgo

A Lockni village on Jhamora...no I don't understand what it means either.

(2008) Animated Fantasy (Freestyle) Starring the voices of Freddie Prinze Jr., Jennifer Love Hewitt, Val Kilmer, Chris Kattan, Kelly Ripa, Michael Clarke Duncan, Eric Idle, Malcolm McDowell, Burt Reynolds, Lou Gossett Jr., Anne Bancroft, Sally Kellerman, Armin Shimerman, John Vernon. Directed by Marc F. Adler and Jason Maurer

Delgo is one of those movies that was on the radar for a very long time (it took more than six years to complete), and when it finally came it was kind of an anti-climax. Not a fitting final credit for the legendary Anne Bancroft.

The movie takes place in the world called Jhamora, where the winged Nohrin rule the skies and the reptilian Lockni live on the ground, utilizing the magic of the earth.  The peaceful Lockni once took the Nohrin in when their home country had been rendered uninhabitable but the Nohrin had betrayed them and tried to take what wasn’t theirs by force. Sedessa (Bancroft), who spurred on the massacre, is exiled by the Nohrin by their King Zahn (Gossett) and an uneasy peace is reached, both sides hating the other.

Delgo (Prinze), a young Lockni is tired of trying to learn the discipline of the magic stones and yearns to be a leader for his people. His friend Filo (Kattan) accompanies him everywhere like a puppy dog, his clumsiness usually getting Delgo in trouble as when they encounter a feisty Nohrin princess named Kyla (Hewitt).

Now I can go on and on about evil plots, wise sages, bizarre magic and heroic lizards but it mostly will just confuse you and get you angry. It’s a mishmash of stuff borrowed from Tolkien, Star Wars and The Dark Crystal among many others. There is a very elaborate backstory here but quite frankly, it kind of gets lost in the pretty pictures. Worse yet, it’s awfully confusing, which is not how you want to start off your animated epic.

Delgo and his Lockni look a lot like a cross between the aliens of Enemy Mine and the lizards of Dinotopia. The Nohrin add a touch of Shrek‘s ogres to the mix. I will say that the world that the filmmakers created for both races is imaginative and wondrous. This is a very good looking movie in a lot of ways.

What disappoints is the story (as mentioned above) and the characters, which are mostly cookie-cutter characters taken from epic fantasies of all sorts. There are generals and wizards and heroic young men and comely princesses, but nobody stands out in a good way. They all kind of blend together, other than Bancroft’s Sedessa and to a lesser extent, Duncan’s High Priest. Kattan’s Filo is particularly insufferable, clueless beyond endurance. I don’t mind comedy relief, I don’t even mind simpletons providing it, but there has to be at least a porch light on somewhere on the premises, if you get my drift.

This is clearly meant for kids but is also clearly meant to appeal to adults and fanboys as well. In the end it tries to be all things to all people and ends up not really appealing to anybody. There were some interesting concepts here, but quite frankly the backstory and mythology was a little too overwhelming.

It’s a shame that this didn’t end up better than it did. Some of the concepts worked rather nicely and the animation is pretty decent. However, it turned out to be too many ideas, not enough story and definitely not enough memorable characters to really make this the movie the filmmakers hoped it would be.

WHY RENT THIS: Beautiful to look at. Bancroft makes a terrific villain in her last movie. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The story is kind of bland and doesn’t go anywhere this genre hasn’t been before. Kattan’s character is immensely annoying, sort of Jar Jar Binks without the intellect.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some fantasy cartoon violence, nothing too over-the-top for most kids.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Anne Bancroft passed away during the six year production phase of the film and a voice double (Melissa Suzanne McBride) was hired to complete some of her dialogue.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s an animated short from the same production studio called “Chroma Chameleon” which is quite fun to watch.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $694,782 on a $40M production budget; the movie was a major bomb financially.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: The Rite