We live in a golden age for students of comedy. Comics like Marc Maron and Paul Provenza now make a living plumbing the dark depths of the comic mind—the uncomfortably intense Maron with his invaluable WTF podcast, and Provenza with The Aristocrats, his book ¡Satiristas!, and his new television show The Green Room With Paul Provenza. Podcasts like Comedy Death-Ray and Never Not Funny have demystified the life of a working comic, ushering listeners into a smoky world of hecklers, one-night stands, shitty apartments, hostile crowds, and fuzzy memories of the cocaine-and-sex-saturated ’80s. This massive wave of interest in the craft of stand-up comedy works both for and against former comedian Jordan Brady and his affectionate new look at the stand-up life, I Am Comic.
Amusing but glib, I Am Comic uses Ritch Shydner, a fiftysomething journeyman stand-up and writer who returns to the stage after a long absence, as a springboard to explore the nuances of the stand-up world. It’s easy to get comedians to talk about themselves and their careers, and much of I Am Comic is devoted to cute anecdotes about the life from famous folks like Sarah Silverman, Tim Allen, and Carlos Mencia, who amuse without edifying.
Shydner’s slightly quirky everyman persona helps set the tone of the film; he’s mildly neurotic and depressive, but essentially a healthy, functional funnyman who has made a good living writing for people like Jeff Foxworthy. The film’s most compelling sequences find Shydner desperately trying to wring a few laughs out of audiences that are apathetic at best and hostile at worst, but Brady maintains an overly respectful distance from Shydner and the talking heads alike. He clearly loves this world and the colorful characters that inhabit it too much to ask the tough questions. Early in the film, Dave Attell asks why documentaries about stand-up comedy are so unrelentingly depressing. Brady’s film unwittingly provides an answer; in the case of Joan Rivers: A Piece Of Work, for example, they’re dark because they dig deep and go to uncomfortable places. Meanwhile, I Am Comic seems content to skate merrily along the surface.
Key features: None.