Our review of Comedian, published December 15th, 2011, is also available.
See a man who had everything, who did a show about nothing, try to come up with something.
For nine seasons, it could safely be said that Jerry Seinfeld was the master of his domain, and by "domain" I mean "his Thursday night time slot on NBC." It's becoming more and more frequent that a stand up comedian rises from the smoke-filled dives to be discovered and hit the big time, and Seinfeld managed nearly a decade of yuks and hijinks before finally calling the show quits. So what do you do when you're a millionaire, you've achieved the heights thousands and thousands of your peers aspire to, and you have nothing left to prove anymore? Do you buy a small tropical island and sit out in the sun and have bikini clad babes bring you boat drinks all day? If you're me, yes. If you're Jerry Seinfeld, you retire all of your old material and start from scratch all the while allowing a filmmaker to document the trials and tribulations of the comedy circuit. Comedian is the result.
Facts of the Case
Comedian is a tale of two men, with neither of them being a renegade robot cop in a land that time forgot, which is something we learn from the trailer. The first of these men is Jerry Seinfeld, a comedian who rose to the top of the heap and was king of the castle, serving as an inspiration for other comedians to make a go at their own (mostly mediocre) sitcoms. Now you can see Seinfeld stumble over unpolished material, agonize over jokes, kibitz with fellow comedians (more on that in a moment), and work his material from five minutes of not necessarily funny stuff up to an appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman. His goal was also to get his routine into the 60-minute range. The second of these two men is Orny Adams, a name so bizarre that I couldn't possibly have made it up. Orny's a likeable young comedian who's never tasted success and longs for the acceptance that other comedians have achieved. Orny's story parallels Seinfeld's in the sense that he too is working himself up to appearing on The Late Show with David Letterman. There are other parallels between the two men, such as both have the same agent, and both of them seem to be rather neurotic and obsessive, a trait that seems to occur in many comedians.
Chances are over the past 13 years you've been exposed to the TV show Seinfeld at one time or another. If you haven't, you might possible have been living in a cave or frozen in a block of ice or being held prisoner in solitary confinement by mute ninjas. And let me just get this out of the way now: if you watch this film expecting the Jerry Seinfeld you've seen on TV, you're going to be sorely disappointed. There are funny moments to Comedian, but there are some very uncomfortable moments that make Jerry look mortal (for lack of a better word). I was really amazed at how much work a comedian puts into his or her act, striving to make every word, pause, and gesture just right to maximize the hilarity. There are moments when Jerry is heckled by an impatient audience (Jerry's theory is that being famous gets you about five minutes of leeway with the audience, and if you drop the ball they'll let you know it), which conjured up the feelings of watching your parents argue. This is one of those films that might actually be a horror movie if you're thinking of entering the realm of comedy. You apparently have to get your start in some dark, smoky hole-in-the-wall in New York City, not making any money, and just hoping that somebody noteworthy sees your act and likes you.
For Jerry, this wasn't a problem. For Orny Adams, the audience gets to see him stew and brood about his act, what he did wrong, and what he can change for the next crowd. In the world of comedy, apparently nothing is ever perfect, and even when it is the booking agents on The Late Show might very well ask you to change a couple of words in your routine, throwing off your cadence.
One of the nice surprises of Comedian is the plethora of comedians that show up to encourage Jerry, or maybe just to bust on him for awhile. Most notably, I was rather amused (and glad, actually) that Chris Rock is apparently a huge Bill Cosby fan. Rock's amazement that Cosby does 150-minute shows without an intermission leads Jerry to seek out Cosby, which leads to one of the cooler moments of the film. (For the record, I, like probably just about everybody else, grew up listening to Bill Cosby tapes. The man is still one of the funniest guys alive.) Other quality moments include Jerry and Jay Leno talking about the significance of being invited over to the desk by Johnny Carson (a sign that you were finally accepted by Carson), and some musings by Colin Quinn on the smoke-filled comedy club.
Miramax has given Comedian a pretty decent transfer considering that this is a low budget documentary shot mostly in dark club settings. Fortunately, the handheld camera isn't too jumpy and the graininess isn't too bothersome. The audio is merely adequate. While the film boasts a 5.1 channel sound field, I feel the need to point out that the only directional sound comes from the musical score.
The Comedian DVD really shines with the plethora of special features Miramax included. First up is an okay commentary track courtesy of producer Gary Streiner and director Christian Charles. There are some amusing points of interest, especially in the moments early on when Seinfeld becomes flummoxed over his own material. Jerry Seinfeld provides the second commentary track along with fellow comedian Colin Quinn. Listening to these two riff off of each other for 90 minutes was a blast, and I highly recommend this track, but I'd be curious as to find out why Orny Adams was not included in the recording. Next we have some deleted scenes, all but one of which I'd have rather seen included in the film itself. I understood the need not to make the film too long, but there was some decent material that got dropped. Miramax included a (very) short film called "Where's Orny Now?" which looks at what Orny Adams has been up to since his appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman, which is not too much. Then we also have exclusive interviews of Jerry Seinfeld and Orny Adams as conducted by the slug-like Jiminy Glick, the all-around repulsive alter ego of Martin Short. I'm one of the many who just doesn't find "Jiminy Glick" to be anywhere near remotely entertaining, so I was somewhat put off by inclusion of these segments. If you are into the Glick, then you'll have to agree to disagree with me. Also included is "Anatomy of a Joke," which features the napkins and scraps of paper Seinfeld, Quinn, and Adams use as notes for some of their jokes. Lastly, Miramax has provided the entire advertising campaign used for Comedian, which I'll need to point out was one of the more creative campaigns used for a documentary. Highlights include various action figures, eight different one-sheet posters, some amusing television spots, and, most significantly, one of the greatest film trailers of all time in which we learn this film is not on an outpost in a land that time forgot and does not feature a renegade, robot cop. It's a funny two minutes that needs to be seen.
If you're interested in the backstage competitiveness and camaraderie of the comedy business, you really need to check out Comedian. If you're a fan of Jerry Seinfeld, I'd also recommend this film as it gives a very personal look at a guy we've pretty much only seen playing a caricature of himself on TV. If you're looking for the hijinks of Cosmo Kramer, look elsewhere.
Comedian and everyone involved is free to go. I'll spare telling you the one about the Englishman, the Frenchman, and the guy from the Bronx who get captured by cannibals.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary with Director Christian Charles and Producer Gary Streiner
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