EIFF 2015 – Misery Loves Comedy
Kevin Pollak’s documentary Misery Loves Comedy has him ask a large number of people associated with comedy what they think makes them funny.
Comedy is a difficult beast at the best of times. We all know what we find funny and can rattle off examples of things we consider to be hilarious but the question of where that comedy comes from or what inspires people to give it a shot is a much broader subject.
This documentary is impressive for the amount of people Pollak managed to interview. These include but are by no means limited to Judd Apatow, Freddie Prinze Jr. Lisa Kudrow, Matthew Perry, Tom Hanks, Steve Coogan, Christopher Guest, Sam Rockwell, Jon Favreau, Whoopi Goldberg, Amy Shumer and so many others.
I found the number of talking heads to be a bit of a double edged sword as there seemed to be a lack of cohesion in the overall structure of the documentary. Some people were returned to frequently where others had such short appearances that I wonder why they were there at all. I suspect real world scheduling issues lessened the amount of time with certain people but there seemed to be an imbalance in the way people were presented.
That’s not to say that what was talked about wasn’t interesting. There are many people interviewed that I don’t really follow closely or even like but I found most of what was said quite interesting. Freddie Prinze Jr’s anecdotes about living in his father’s shadow and the difficulties he had establishing his solo identity were fascinating. I don’t really know much about the guy other that what I’ve seen him in so had never really identified him as a comic presence. I still don’t but that’s probably more to do with my exposure to him.
I liked that the people interviewed presented a cross section of the industry from writers to performers to actors with a few who have done it all like Christopher Guest thrown in. In some ways I felt that the bias was more on the performers and to a lesser extent the writers. The actors in general seemed to have the briefest anecdotes.
One thing that is consistent through the whole thing is the level of honesty. Everyone is incredibly open about their life experiences and candidly describe some things that they aren’t proud of. There’s a consensus that every comedian is in some way damaged. This can manifest in brutal insecurities, an addiction to being the centre of attention or just generally being miserable in their own lives (hence the title). Whether that’s true or not is open to debate but a case is made for it.
It certainly presents comedians in a different light when they are talking openly about psychological issues and drug abuse being at the foundation of their careers. It’s both horrifying and fascinating at the same time to think that people who always come across so light hearted and entertaining might be hiding an inner darkness that they shield through a veil of comedy.
Despite the brutal honesty a lot of this managed to be really funny. Some of the people involved are naturally hilarious and manage to relate their anecdotes in a really entertaining way. A notable highlight is an impressive showcase of talent from Christopher Guest.
The biggest problem the documentary had is that the subject matter was a little too broad and ends up feeling a little unfocused generally. I guess the point is that there is no answer to the question posed and that it’s different for everyone but a sense of structure would have been better than randomly throwing interviews at the viewer with no clear narrative.
Despite that, this is definitely entertaining enough and provides an interesting insight into the world of comedy and what makes certain comedians tick. It’s probably not strong enough to ever revisit but it reasonably diverting for a while.
An entertaining and eye opening look at the world of comedy through the experiences of people who work in the industry.
The documentary has a good spread of talking heads from writers to performers to actors as well as a few people who have done it all at one time or another. This allows for a comprehensive look at what inspires people to approach comedy in different ways.
In some ways the documentary lacks a sense of focus. Sometimes it feels as if there’s no real context to the interviews that just get thrown at the audience with no real structure. I like that the question of what makes people funny is posed but there’s on structure to explore that and no real conclusion is attempted.
There’s a good level of honesty from everyone involved who talk candidly about things that they aren’t especially proud of and the viewer really gets an idea of how damaged some comedians are psychologically. It seems that to be truly funny there has to be something wrong with you. This may not be true but a case is made for it and a fairly convincing one at that.
Some of the anecdotes manage to be really funny despite the seriousness of some of them. The people who are naturally funny all of the time come off the best here.
If you’re a fan of comedy then this will certainly appeal to you. I’m not sure it’s worth ever revisiting but it is reasonably diverting for a little while.