It’s no secret that sometimes comedy is taken a bit too seriously. Comedy obsessives love not just the jokes, but the mechanics and emotions of the comedy world. There are a raft of comedy documentaries exploring comedy and comedians, but do they really have anything significant to add to the discussion? This series looks at comedy documentaries and whether they’re interesting, insightful, and possibly even…funny?
If The Unbookables is the punk rock version of comedy tour, The Comedians of Comedy is its indie hipster cousin.
The tour, led by Patton Oswalt and featuring Maria Bamford, Zach Galifianakis, and Brian Posehn, played rock venues to younger audiences who couldn’t afford to go to comedy clubs. The idea, Oswalt explains in the film, is to encourage people to get into comedians the same way they get into bands, by following their careers for decades as they evolve.
Watching the film now, it’s striking how much of what Oswalt wanted to happen has actually happened. When the film was shot in 2004, this group was far from mainstream, but their sensibilities have spread and played a huge part in the launch of this comedy boom we’re currently enjoying.
At the beginning, Oswalt laments his place at the base of the alt comedy realm, saying that it’s not him that will be the huge success story. “I’m setting up the next guy,” he says. “That’s my purpose.” That hasn’t quite played out — Oswalt is obviously hugely successful — but he’s right about his role as a forefather to the current comedy scene.
One of the points of the tour is to showcase the real comedic voices of the guys, who were already famous for more mainstream things (Oswalt for King of Queens, Posehn for Just Shoot Me and Galifianakis for Tru Calling). This tour and film, plus a six-part series for Comedy Central, did just that with amazing success.
The downside is that Bamford seems like she’s in her own, slightly darker film. She’s not seen hanging out with the guys as often, and her on-camera interviews tend to be more serious. Though she and Galifianakis both talk, half-jokingly, about mental health issues, the film glosses over any in-depth look at the more serious side to comedy.
Instead, we follow the comedians in their free time, buying comic books, visiting video game arcades, and making silly videos in a pre-YouTube era. There doesn’t seem to be an official trailer for the film, but here’s one of those videos (NSFW).
While this movie is fun to watch now – all these people are famous and funny — I think it’s real value will rise in the years to come. Assuming there are still comedy nerds 20 years from now, they will be able to look back at The Comedians of Comedy and see the roots of this comedy boom. In that way it’s almost a time capsule — the later it’s opened, the more illuminating it will become.
And so, in conclusion…
Is it interesting? Well, it’s fun. The comics joke about the lack of reality-show-style drama, but it is a problem that the whole film is filled with people enjoying themselves and encountering no difficulties. “This tour has been way too fun and way too easy,” Oswalt jokes near the end, and he’s not wrong.
What does it have to say about comedy? The film is proponent of alternative comedy finding its own audience outside of the typical clubs, an issue still up for debate.
Is it funny? Yes. This is an undeniably incredible line-up, and they’re funny on and off stage.
Can I stream it on Netflix? Yes!
Any comedy documentaries you’d like to see discussed? Do let me know.
Elise Czajkowski is a freelance journalist in New York City. She has a huge girl crush on Maria Bamford.