- Movie Review: Misery Loves Comedy, director Kevin Pollack
- A Sundance Film Festival Official Selection
- Available on Netflix
I watched Misery Loves Comedy with great delight – as a parade of comedy heavyweights like Bob Saget, Tom Hanks, Jimmy Fallon, Martin Short and more “cut loose without cutting deep,” as Variety described it. Over 50 comedians were asked the question “do you have to be miserable to be funny?” and for the most part they talked about their early days, and how hard it was to get a break – lots of laughs. They didn’t “go there,” and talk about any specific temperament or life events that were common to wanting to be center of attention, wanting to be a comedian.
The show was fun to watch, and had a “behind the scenes” feel to it, like we were getting to see what these comic geniuses were like in their natural habitat. Of course, they were performing, going for laughs – but they probably do that in their sleep. And it was fun to be let in.
On the other hand, the question – do you have to be miserable to make people laugh? – was intriguing, but for the most part left unanswered. We didn’t delve into addictions – except everyone acknowledging the high they felt onstage, and the addiction to their time at the mic. We saw very little admission of difficulty or misery. Tom Hanks and Jimmy Fallon were a testimony to the opposite. Freddie Prinz Jr talked of the negative legacy of his dad’s suicide when he was a year old. But did it inform his comedy? He gave no real answer. Amy Schumer talked of comedians all knowing each other and always hanging out together at all gatherings. She was alluding to an “outsider” status that comes of seeing things so differently from the people around them. She spoke of a social awkwardness and extreme introversion, except when you’re onstage. Maria Bamford talked about comedy rescuing her from the shame she felt about her time in a psych ward. People spoke of comedy as a coping mechanism – a way to succeed if you were bad at sports, a way to get out being pestered or beaten up. But those insights weren’t followed up, and made up about 7 minutes of the film’s 90 minute running time. Are these people miserable in their real lives – and then just turn it on for us? That did not seem to be the case.
The subjects were almost exclusively white and male – as is the case with most studies – scientific, or in this case wholly unscientific. Women comedians are enjoying a golden era – but where were Ellen, Tina and Amy? Samantha Bee? Black comedians have been shaking things up for decades, but where were Chris Rock, Eddie Murphy, Jamie Fox? Whoopie Goldberg had to carry both the female and black representation almost exclusively. (Amy Schumer and Jeneen Garafolo rounded out the women in the cast. Lisa Kudrow and Maria Bamford made brief appearances.) For a fun list of the top 50 Female Comedians – go to Ranker.com. I wish Pollack had. The few women he featured were about the only ones with insight or willingness to answer his questions about a correlation between misery and comedy. (I don’t think in the end, there is one.)
This movie title is a “grabber” that doesn’t pay off, click bait. It’s fun to watch, but don’t hope for any proof or insight into Misery and Comedy.