Comedians are not funny people. If we're to believe Christian Charles' aptly-titled documentary, they're obsessive, jealous, self-loathing, analytical and petty. Remember, dying is easy and comedy is hard.
Two paths are followed in Comedian. On one, a comic on the verge of success named Orny Adams receives what could be a career-defining break. On the other, an entertainer who climbed to the top of the heap named Jerry Seinfeld surveys his newly-acquired kingdom following the end of his highly-successful sitcom.
Charles dives into the booze-tinged, cigarette-soaked comedy clubs of New York with the finesse of a low-budget documentary filmmaker, which means his visuals are either dimly lit or overexposed and several of his subjects' jokes get lost in bar noise on the crackly audio tracks. Still, he sets out to paint an interesting portrait of the lifestyle and his mission is accomplished.
As expected, Seinfeld returns to familiar Gotham surroundings after spending years in Los Angeles. He immediately begins mining Manhattan comedy clubs for new material and slowly builds up a routine. Five minutes turn into twenty minutes. Jokes form by committee during late night bull sessions with SNL veteran Colin Quinn. Chris Rock stops by to tell Seinfeld that he caught Cosby entertaining the masses at an arena-sized venue. To Rock's amazement, the Grand Poobah of comics rattles off two-and-a-half hours. "With an intermission?" asks Seinfeld. No intermission, says Rock, and the material is top of the line. The two A-list comedians curse under their breath before getting back to work.
Perhaps because he shares a producer credit on the film, Seinfeld comes off sparkly clean. He's pensive, unsure of his celebrity but always business-smart. On the contrary, Adams may regret agreeing to participate in Charles' experiment. Instead of positive exposure, Adams is sure to garner negative buzz - or no buzz at all, if he's lucky - once audiences learn what a conceited, unbalanced, and arrogant little worm he is. Adams is a second-generation Matt LeBlanc clone who makes the Friends funnyman look like Buster Keaton in comparison. Clueless to his own conceit, Adams would be the first to tell you the extent of his talent. In reality, he's a comedian without a sense of humor who desperately needs a slice of humble pie.
Both storylines, however loose, culminate with appearances on CBS's Late Show with David Letterman. Even then, Seinfeld's and Adams' experiences are worlds apart. Where the television veteran is calm and collected, receiving compliments backstage by staff members, the upstart comedian is forced to rework several jokes prior to air and couldn't appear more nervous.
Comedian offers the briefest glimpse of Seinfeld's home life. His wife and child accompany him to the taping of Letterman, one of the few times business mixes with pleasure during the film. The rest of the time is spent on-stage, where the talented performer tirelessly works to perfect his routine. One very interesting sequence has Seinfeld roaming the comedy clubs after hours, coaxing house managers to give him precious few minutes at the end of an evening. The desire to test material in front of a live audience is palpable.
Off-stage, comedians can be dreadfully unfunny. No sooner are they behind the curtain before they begin to critique themselves, second-guessing and third-guessing their material. This review probably is a waste of time in and of itself, as Seinfeld, I'm sure, already has picked his film to shreds. The irony is that in their haste to tear down their most recent performances, they never stop to hear the one thing we think they crave: applause.
The Comedian DVD really looks like hell, its painfully low-budget video origins laid out bare. It's hard to hear and even harder to see, a grainy, wobbly display of some of the worst technical moviemaking ability ever. The deleted scenes, including a trip to a Porsche convention, are long and often boring. The filmmakers' commentary drones on as if this was The Most Important Subject of All Time (though a second track from Seinfeld and Colin Quinn is appropriately mocking). Really, really not worth the effort. If you can handle the original film, you should find yourself more than up to speed on the subject matter.
No you suck!