Judge Patrick Bromley likes to think of himself as the comedian of his kitchen.
Important comedians at the pinnacle of their careers. Seriously.
The late, great Gene Siskel used to say that there were two things that couldn't be explained to another person: what is Sexy and what is Funny. What turns a person on or makes a person laugh is totally individual and subjective; what works for one won't necessarily work for another. This was the thought running through my head as I watched Anchor Bay's release of the excellent concert film-slash-tour documentary, The Comedians of Comedy.
Allow me this tangent: I don't get Dane Cook. I'm sure he's a nice guy and all, but he has yet to make me laugh—this despite the fact that he is the biggest act in comedy right now. This does not always make me popular in discussions about comedy (though I do find that many of his fans aren't fans of comedy per se, just of him). Trying to tell another person that I don't care for Mr. Cook is like telling him or her that I don't like Napoleon Dynamite: there's a scoff, a roll of the eyes, a questioning of my taste, and eventually someone pulls a knife. Because what makes us laugh can't be explained to someone else.
Which is why I have to think that I would have a hard time explaining to said DC fan that the four comics in The Comedians of Comedy put his spastic, fist-pumping style to shame. It's entirely a matter of personal taste, and these Comedians are right up my alley. The film follows a tour of four comedians of the "alternative comedy" (whatever that means) variety: Maria Bamford (Lucky Numbers), Brian Posehn (The Devil's Rejects, Eulogy), Zach Galifianakis (Out Cold), and my personal favorite, Patton Oswalt (The King of Queens, Taxi). I've been a fan of three of the four of them for some time (Maria Bamford, prior to this film, was relatively unknown to me), but seeing them all together only plays up their individual strengths: Posehn's deadpan neediness, Galifianakis's absurdist experimentations, Bamford's character work (she initially struck me as the Rita Rudner of the coffee house, but quickly won me over), and Oswalt's heady, angry observations all seem funnier in relation to one another.
The tour itself (and subsequent film) is the brainchild of Patton Oswalt. Seeing the popularity of many of the "packaged" comedy tours (beginning with The Original Kings of Comedy and eventually devolving into The Blue Collar Comedy Tour and its many offshoots), Oswalt sets out to deliver a similar multi-comedian package. But rather than booking stadiums or comedy clubs (which, he points out, can be prohibitively expensive or age-restricted), these comics book themselves at smaller venues and rock clubs—there's more of a do-it-yourself approach to the tour. Oswalt's goal, he points out, is to get younger fans to follow comics the way they follow bands—to watch them evolve and grow over time.
Of course, such lofty ambitions about the state-and-future of comedy only make up a tiny part of the movie's running time. Most of the film is comprised of segments from the comics' live acts, interspersed with footage of them hanging out in hotels, restaurants, and comic book shops. And while that may not seem exciting to a casual viewer, you might be surprised at how much fun it is. The foursome (though Galifianakis doesn't meet up until about halfway through) is forever trying to make each other laugh and outdo one another ("The Most Independent Movie Ever Made," a simultaneous celebration of high and lowbrow humor, is a particular standout), which means they never stop being funny. And it's easy to forget just how funny such truly funny people can be—even in their off hours. The Comedians of Comedy reminds us.
The film is presented full frame with some variety in picture quality, as it has been created from several different sources. Overall, though, the image is good for a production of this type. There is a standard two-channel audio track, which also does a nice job of balancing the banter with the score by Michael Penn (whom Oswalt used to open for on tour). Anchor Bay has also seen fit to include several worthwhile extras, including several deleted scenes (containing a short film shot by Posehn and Galifianakis—which is only hinted at in the feature—in its entirety), some footage from a "rehearsal tour," and the "making of" Galfianakis's chair-breaking epic. Also included is something called "Comedians to Pay Attention To," which is really just two-minute bits from six different up-and-coming comics (most of which are mentioned by Oswalt and Bamford during an interview in the film). None are as funny as the Fab Four, but it's a nice touch and a testament to just how comedy-minded the filmmakers and producers of the DVD really are.
On the flip side of the disc is its best bonus feature: Live at the El Rey, the full-length presentation of the tour's final concert. Though the disc jacket lists Live at the El Rey as being presented full frame, it's actually a letterboxed presentation in an aspect ratio of about 1.78:1. The program itself, which runs just under an hour, features Bamford, Posehn, and Oswalt (Galifianakis was doing a limited run on the tour), each doing about 20 minutes apiece. Bob Odenkirk of Mr. Show (or the Best Sketch Comedy Show Ever) is also on hand to deliver an "introduction" of sorts, which is really an incisive and hilarious indictment of the whole "alternative comedy" scene. The feature contains some overlapping material from the film, but often proves to be even funnier in the proper context.
It's something of a coincidence that I mention Dane Cook in this review (okay…it's possible that I planned it), as he and HBO tried to pull off a reality show similar to The Comedians of Comedy last summer. It was called Dane Cook's Tourgasm, and it's a perfect example of what this film could have been but isn't—whiny, self-indulgent, and not nearly as funny as it thinks it is. As such, it was a pretty good reflection of the comics involved in that show. Comedians reflects its subjects, too, but to better effect—it's smart, laid-back, charming, and really, really funny. That's my opinion, anyway. Just don't ask me to explain it.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
• Live at the El Rey Concert Film
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