Ah, the small yet growing genre – the comedy documentary.
Not to be confused with mockumentaries, comedy documentaries, or “com docs” as I call ‘em (or do now) focus on a comedian or group of comedians, and mine their careers for biographical insights as well as laughs.
As Netflix Instant is currently streaming a bunch of com docs I thought I’d point out 10 worth watching:
1. “Monty Python: Almost The Truth – The Lawyer’s Cut” (2009) Created to celebrate the legendary British comedy group’s 40th anniversary, this extensive 6 part documentary series is a glorious mix of classic clips, interviews, and behind the scenes footage. Each episode is nearly an hour long so that’s a lot of Python to wade through, but I doubt fans will mind at all.
2. “The Comedians Of Comedy: The Movie” (Dir. Michael Bieden, 2005) Although this film is sprinkled with hilarious stand-up performance footage of Patton Oswalt, Brian Posehn, Maria Bamford and Zach Galifianakis, the best parts are when the comics hang out and crack wise about their craft. It’s funny fly on the wall stuff. The rest of the film which documents the comics on their 2004 US tour playing indie rock venues rather than the same old comedy clubs, is a lot of fun too. Netflix is also streaming “The Comedians Of Comedy: Live At El Rey” (2006).
3. “Believe: The Eddie Izzard Story” (Dir. Sarah Townsend, 2009) A com bio doc (got that?) of the cross dressing comedian that has him telling his tale, with the help of family and friends, as he visits his childhood home, old school yard, and theater turf to get to the heart of his punchy persona. Of course, there’s plenty of stage stand-up schtick (both from professional film and one camera video shoots) to fill in the narrative gaps. For those who can’t get enough Izzard there’s 5 live one-man show specials of his also available on Netflix Instant.
4. “Lenny Bruce Without Tears” (Dir. Fred Baker, 1972) Many folks know the name Lenny Bruce (most likely from that old R.E.M. song), but haven’t seen his work. This scratchy black and white doc may be dated (as is much of Bruce’s material), but you get a good sense of the controversial comic’s routines, and how his historic obscenity trial plagued his final years though it must be said that the film is sadder than it is funny. Incidentally Eddie Izzard played Bruce in the 1999 production of Julian Barry’s 1971 play “Lenny”. The 1974 Bob Fosse/Dustin Hoffman film adaptation of “Lenny” is also available on Instant.
5. “Second City: First Family Of Comedy” (Dir. Sharon Bartlett, 2006) This 3 part doc miniseries features a wealth of performance footage, photographs, and amusing anecdotes about a huge array of funny folks’ (including many “Saturday Night Live” players) experiences with the famous improvisational troop. The first episode written and hosted by Dave Thomas concerning the troop’s Chicago origin story is the best, but the other 2 which takes us from “SCTV” to the present are no slouches either.
6. “Sam Kinison: Why Did We Laugh?” (Dir. Larry Carroll, 1998) There are several programs featuring the late screaming preacher turned screaming comedy superstar available on Instant (mostly live cable stand-up specials), but this doc co-executive produced by Kinison’s brother Bill is the best portrait available. It’s a wild ride though a scorched psyche by way of extended concert clips and touching testimonials from the likes of Rodney Dangerfield, Dennis Miller, Larry King, and, most notably, an ailing Richard Pryor.
7. “Basic Black: The Lewis Black Story” (Dir. Adam Dubin, 2010) Another loud comic is given the bio doc treatment, and it’s a well rounded (and very funny) exploration of “The Daily Show” correspondent’s evolution of style and philosophies.
8. “Joan Rivers: A Piece Of Work” (Dirs. Ricki Stern & Anne Sundberg, 2010) This is the only doc on this list that played theatrically in Raleigh. Here’s my review from last year.
9. “I Am Comic” (Dir. Jordan Brady, 2010)
“Why are comedy documentaries always so f—ing serious? I mean, I know we’re sad people to begin with, but let’s find a lighter way to do it…maybe, if we’re both licking gigantic lollipops or something.” – Dave Atell
In this also sometimes sadder than funny com doc former comic-turned-director Jordan Brady takes a look at what he calls the “occupation of being a working comedian.” He turns his camera on retired ’80s comedian Ritch Shyder who decides to dust off his comic chops and get back on stage. Shyder and many of his cronies (including Jim Gaffigan, Jeff Foxworthy, Sarah Silverman, and Tim Allen) have a lot of great stories about their chosen profession to tell along the way.
10. “David Cross: Let America Laugh” (Dirs. Lance Bangs & David Cross, 2003) This sloppy tour doc has precious little stand-up, but Cross and crew’s backstage and on the road shenanigans are quite entertaining. Also there’s a segment filmed at the Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro that Triangle peeps may enjoy.
So there you have it – 10 com docs just a few clicks away.
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