Anyone who wants to be a stand-up comic should see Comedian, a documentary about the challenges of that profession. Unfortunately, I canít recommend this film to other viewers. Choppy editing and too many repetitive scenes spoil what could have been an entertaining and enlightening movie. Despite Jerry Seinfeldís star power and cameo appearances by such masters of the craft as Bill Cosby, Chris Rock, and Robert Klein, Comedian fails to evoke the laughter I expected.
"I never felt pain until I started doing comedy," complains Orney Adams, an up-and-coming young comic who, along with Seinfeld, receives most of the camera time. He worries about his material, resents comments from some audience members, and never feels happy Ė even when invited to appear on the Dave Letterman show. Like Adams, the well-established Seinfeld suffers anxiety about his work. "I never think itís good enough," he muses.
Comedian follows these two performers as they prepare their material, wait to go on stage, and discuss their problems with peers like Colin Quinn (formerly of "SNL"). But we donít get the opportunity to see and hear enough of their actual "sets." Most of the time, "backstage" becomes center stage Ė both before and after each performance.
Many of the jokes in Comedian fall flat. Still, I guess thatís par for the course in the life of a stand-up comic. Adams tries to get laughs by using a newspaper article about himself Ė a big mistake. Seinfeldís "best showbiz joke of all time" isnít very funny. And Quinnís question about why a jury canít be trusted causes Seinfeld to remind him how old that one is.
To me, the most interesting revelation in Comedian involves the reverence stand-up comics have for Bill Cosby. When Chris Rock tells Seinfeld that Cosby can make a live audience laugh for over two hours straight, Seinfeld is astonished. After all, heís having trouble coming up with 45 minutes of new material. In a meeting with Cosby, Seinfeld receives encouragement from him Ė which boosts his morale considerably. That poignant meeting emerges as the filmís highlight, but the scene is much too short.
For a more dramatic depiction of the world of stand-up comedy, I prefer Punchline, an edgy 1988 movie starring Tom Hanks and Sally Field as competing comedians. The story is fiction, of course, but itís more coherent than Comedian and also illustrates what a serious business comedy can be. Not that thereís anything wrong with that.
(Comedian is scheduled for VHS/DVD release by Miramax Home Entertainment on May 13, 2003. Rated "R" for language.)