Friday, April 24, 2015

Tribeca 15: Misery Loves Comedy

Stand-up comedy is a tough racket. When you’re on, you’re killing and when you’re off, you’re dying—and you’re rarely anywhere in between. What kind of person is drawn to this business? Depressive neurotics. At least that is the casual thesis of Kevin Pollak’s riff-heavy interview documentary Misery Loves Comedy (trailer here), which had a special Tribeca Talks screening at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival, ahead of its official opening today at the IFC Center.

To explore the notion that comedy is either some kind of cathartic therapy or sick compulsion, Pollak interviewed over sixty comics and performers, as well as Jimmy Fallon. Of course, everyone was “on.” That is the whole point. Nevertheless, they said some revealing things. After all, they just can’t help themselves.

Pollak and editor Robert Legato went for and nailed the rat-a-tat pacing. They never linger long enough after a punchline for the audience to supply their own rim-shots. As a result, there are a lot of laughs in Misery. A good deal of attention will be focused on big name like Penn Jillette, Steve Coogan, Tom Hanks, Jim Gaffigan, Mike Birbiglia, Christopher Guest, Martin Short, and Richard Lewis, as well as filmmakers like Jason Reitman and James L. Brooks. Fittingly, Lewis Black and Jim Norton are also prominent in the film, considering they joined Pollak for the Tribeca Talk and will also represent at the IFC Center. However, some of the best material come from unlikely sources, like journeyman comic Dana Gould getting in a killer bit about his struggle with depression and Freddie Prinze, Jr’s reflections on his father.

Listening to Black and Norton after the screening really helps underscore Pollak’s general point. Clearly, they are both gallopingly neurotic, but in vastly different ways. It also provided Pollak with an opportunity to respond to criticism regarding the alleged lack of diversity in the film, but such charges are completely unfair. For instance, he features Whoopi Goldberg and she isn’t even funny.

Sure, you could ask about dozens of absent well-known comics, but a film like Misery is largely captive to people’s schedules. You get who you can get and then you go. Pollak’s film never delves too deeply into serious pain (arguably, Adam Carolla’s Road Hard offers a more revealing look into the trials of life as a comedian), but so what? It’s breezy and consistently amusing, which is what most people want from a comedy doc. Recommended for stand-up fans, Misery Loves Comedy opens today (4/24) at the IFC Center.