Misery Loves Comedy

Misery Loves Comedy ★★★½

Managed to catch a screening of this at SF Sketchfest. In the Q&A afterwards, an audience member told Kevin Pollak that he was considering making a documentary and wanted advice on planning a story -- Pollak replied that he just filmed as much as he could, and the story came later.

That advice probably doesn't generalize, but when your friends include Tom Hanks, Jason Alexander, Larry David, Jason Reitman, Dana Gould, half the cast of Friends, and virtually the entire alt comedy scene, there are a helluva lot worse ways to make a film. Though the process does show: the movie is less a honed examination of its central question ("Do you have to be miserable to be funny?") than a series of conversations somewhere vaguely in its orbit. Fans of WTF or You Made It Weird should feel right at home with this territory: comedians talking about comedy, sometimes with shocking insight and sometimes eye-roll-worthy indulgence.

What elevates this above something like Bonnie McFarlane's Women Aren't Funny or a 2 hour episode of Maron, is the sheer diversity of opinions present. Stephen Merchant remembers idolizing Steve Coogan, who remembers ripping off Christopher Guest, who remembers bombing on stage in Canada. Marc Maron thinks comedy is a way to give voice to pain; Scott Aukerman sees utter silliness as a relief from the pain we already bring to the table. Despite admirable attempts to whittle it down to a point, the film is (in a sense) a mess. But amidst the pile of fun anecdotes, personal recollection, armchair philosophizing, and crude jokes is an unshakable sense of community, preserved in a time-capsule. And though you've probably heard them wax poetic about their idols (Williams, Martin, Carlin, Letterman, Pryor, Bruce, Sahl) a thousand times, it's hard not to be swept up in their nostalgia. It's like a late-night bar conversation with an old friend: you both realize it's not as meaningful as you think it is, but have no desire to see it end. Pour another glass, tell me that story about meeting Johnny Carson, then let's hash it out for real: do you have to be miserable...