One of those films that definitely has greater resonance for US audiences than here in Britain, Comedian is still a fascinating insight into the labours of the modern stand-up.
Jerry Seinfeld had the most successful sitcom of all time, but here he is struggling to get that crucial hour’s worth of fresh material together, the crowds of dingy New York clubs giving him five minutes grace for his celebrity. During an awful moment, he paces the stage for almost a minute, thread completely lost, agonising as only a comedian stuttering can be.
His experiences are paired with those of 29-year-old comic, Orney Adams. An abrasive, ambitious up-comer, Adams is also an obnoxious little bastard who believes the world owes him, but he’s not without talent. One of the few shots we see of his act is a triumphant slot on the David Letterman Show.
By far the best moment though is when the two comedians discuss their craft. To Seinfeld, stand-up is the thing, the most defining expression of his art, whilst for Adams it’s just a step to getting his own sitcom and into the movies. The older comic’s wariness and head-shaking disbelief at the upstart is brilliantly captured.
Comedy legends like Chris Rock, Bill Cosby, Jay Leno and Gary Shandling are wheeled out for cameo wisdom, but Seinfeld is never less than humble and eager to swap advice, appealing in his deference to both them and the audience. Yet there’s still something egotistical about this film that ranks it below Maija Di Giorgio’s Bitter Jester for human interest. Certainly, we never get Seinfeld’s version of an incident with Di Giorgio that saw him attacked by her boyfriend as the two documentaries attempted to film in the same club.
Comedian’s production values are somewhat patchy, though the scrappy aesthetic seems in keeping with the dingy clubs the comics are performing in. It’s an average film, but the largely neglected subject matter raises its appeal, and you’ll hang on to the end to see if Adams gets his comeuppance.
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