Th!nkFilm // 2003 // 87 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Bromley // June 20th, 2006
Raw, unfiltered, outrageous hilarity from the heart of America's comedy scene!
Standup comedian Fran Solomita's love letter to Boston comedy, When Stand Up Stood Out, wants to somehow capture and reflect upon the moment when standup comedy exploded, first across the city and then across the country. He uses recent interviews with comics like Steven Wright, Paula Poundstone, Denis Leary, Kenny Rogerson, and Kevin Meany, combined with archival footage of those same comics performing in clubs like The Comedy Connection and the Ding Ho -- the two most successful comedy clubs in Boston at the time (the latter being nothing more than a transformed Chinese restaurant). Solomita also throws in a lot of lame stock footage (stuff like a building being demolished to reflect the drug-and-booze crash of the scene in the 1980s) to pad the movie out and provide transitions for the already scattershot narrative. The trick is transparent and ineffective, as the finished movie is rambling and unfocused, but I guess I can't blame the guy for trying.
A great deal of When Stand Up Stood Out's running time is spent on comedian Lenny Clarke (Rescue Me), who most of the film's participants seem to regard as the unofficial "leader" of Boston comedy at the time -- he was the superstar, voted most likely to break out. When the breakout finally occurred, it was deadpan king Steven Wright -- not Clarke -- to hit it big. The movie suggests that all of the comics couldn't have been happier about this. It brought the city new attention, and they were happy to see one of their own make a name for himself. They supported Wright; not so a few years later, when pudgy throat-shredder Bobcat Goldthwait (Shakes the Clown, Blow) exploded onto the scene. Goldthwait's popularity left dozens of comics (Clarke chief among them) believing that they had been overlooked in favor of a novelty, and the camaraderie that once united the movement -- exacerbated by increasingly excessive drug and alcohol use -- was torn apart.
The film does an OK job of chronicling the Boston "scene" of the late 1970s and early 1980s -- as well as the standup boom of the same era -- but it never provides any context. We never get outside of Boston; fine, since the movie chooses to focus on just that city, but it makes the "phenomenon" difficult to place -- the film becomes too insulated. We don't ever really see the effects of either movement, whether on comedy or on the country as a whole. When the movie cuts to interviews or standup footage with Janeane Garofalo (Dog Park, Mystery Men), it doesn't make sense -- she wasn't around for the boom that's being focused on, and the movie never gets around to looking at the Boston comedy scene that followed. The assumption, then, is that she's included because she's another famous comic from Boston. This movie isn't just about Boston comics; it's about Boston comics of a certain time. Now, don't get me wrong -- any Janeane Garofalo is welcome as far as I'm concerned, and her few comments (specifically those about the sexist double standard of comedy clubs) are a valuable inclusion. It's just that she really doesn't belong in this movie, and her screen time speaks volumes of director Solomita's lack of focus.
The disc from Th!inkFilm delivers When Stand Up Stood Out in a full frame presentation that, because it's been cobbled together from a seemingly endless number of video sources, varies greatly in quality. The contemporary interviews conducted with the comics look bright and clear, but some of that archive material has seen better days. None of it is ever unwatchable, but it does come close at times. The stereo audio track runs into the same kinds of issues -- the older and more worn the source, the harder it is to make out what's being said -- but can still be understood and enjoyed. And though the disc jacket claims the feature runs 87 minutes, I clocked it at only 76.
Perhaps the folks at Th!nkfilm were including the bonus features in that running time; a handful of extras have been included on the disc, though there's nothing to get very excited about. Some bonus standup material has been included from the likes of Bobcat Goldthwait, Lenny Clarke, Steven Wright, Don Gavin, and Kenny Rogerson, but it's all been culled from the Don Crimmins benefit done in 2000 (or shortly thereafter); we don't get extended cuts of any of the bits that gave these guys their names back in the '70s and '80s. There's also a short "making of" featurette, and some extra "Meany on the Street" footage -- a bit that Kevin Meany used to perform in his standup act (not unlike Jay Leno's "Jaywalking," further proving that that man has yet to do anything original). This may be great news for Kevin Meany fans, but I am not among them. The last significant extra is also the most shameless: inexplicably popular comic Dane Cook (Stuck on You, Torque) reflects on the Boston scene and on his own humble beginnings. He seems like a nice enough guy and his comments are sincere, but at no point does he say anything remotely funny (the streak continues!). There is no reason for the interview to be included on the disc except to get Dane Cook's name on the jacket, which, admittedly, may lead to a few more sales among the college crowd. Those people deserve what they get.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 87 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Flashback with Comedian Dane Cook
* Bonus Stand Up Material
* The Making of When Stand Up Stood Out
* Bonus "Meany on the Street" Footage
* Theatrical Trailer
* Bonus Trailers