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Comedian (2002)

September 18th, 2007 · No Comments

“Miramax is brilliant at publicizing its successes, but it’s even more brilliant at burying its failures,” said Dennis Rice, their former president of marketing. Miramax Films was notorious for test screening its movies – often in malls in New Jersey – and barely releasing the ones that scored poorly. Some went straight to video, even those with major stars. Here’s a look at some of the studio’s B-sides, bombs and greatest misses.

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Documentary directed by Christian Charles – co-creator of the American Express ad campaign featuring Jerry Seinfeld – opens in The Comedy Cellar in New York in early 2000. After walking away from a hit TV sitcom in 1998, then “retiring” the material he’d performed his entire standup career in an HBO special, the film follows Seinfeld as he attempts to build a completely new act.

This takes place in basement dives – Caroline’s, Gotham Comedy Club – where Seinfeld, and Colin Quinn, hang around, looking for an open mic and a few minutes to try new material. Intercut with this is 29-year-old Orny Adams, an up and comer with the ambition of a laser beam. He wants to get to where Seinfeld is. Seinfeld wants to get to where Adams is, honing an act.

George Wallace, Robert Klein, Ray Romano, Chris Rock, Jay Leno and Gary Shandling cross paths with Seinfeld at various points backstage. Some express amazement that the comedian has developed a new hour of material in a year. Seinfeld’s manager – George Sharpiro – takes Orny Adams on as a client. When the kid asks Shapiro if he thinks he’s going to be a big star, Shapiro answers, “Yes. And I think you’ll still be unhappy.”

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The film existed in a 120-minute version at one point, before Charles took out a great deal of documentary material, replaced it with more standup, and delivered an 82-minute cut. That’s not nearly enough time to illustrate what the film alludes to so well; performing standup comedy is as much an addiction as it is a craft or career, and like any artist, comedians end up looking at an empty canvas sooner or later.

Comedian consciously steps away from being a documentary about Jerry Seinfeld, to the degree An Inconvenient Truth tried to not be about Al Gore. But Seinfeld is such a pro that he remains a cipher – internalizing most of his thoughts – while the kid Orny Adams is the opposite, equivocating way too much of his angst. He comes across as an unabashed dick whose career could not suffer any fate too harsh.

A lot about the film bugged me. There’s too much Orny Adams, too much jazz drowning out the comedians. Charles fails to sustain anything good until the final ten minutes, which are sublime. Seinfeld visits Bill Cosby – who Chris Rock enthused was performing the best standup act he’d ever seen – and when Seinfeld returns to show biz, seems at peace. Close-up shots of the club appear as the credits play, and Susannah McCorkle sings “Waters of March.” It’s an absolutely perfect ending to an imperfect film about creativity.

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Comedian provides terrific insight into the world of the stand-up comedian. Despite the foibles of the production, it is worth seeing if only to get to hear parts of Seinfeld’s new act,” writes Mike DeWolfe at Apollo Movie Guide.

Alex Mestas at Lights Out Films says, “Comedian isn’t a particularly great movie. It’s too simple a flick for the audience to become emotionally invested in, but it’s interesting enough to compel you to feel nervous for Jerry when he’s about to go on stage.”

“Virtually all of Comedian appealed to me, really. The movie contrasts the paths taken by a little-known comic and one of the world’s most famous, and while it doesn’t do this in a consistently smooth manner, the material’s very compelling and incisive,” writes Colin Jacobson at DVD Movie Guide.

“The question is this: What have I been doing?” View Seinfeld’s return to standup on the March 21, 2001 episode of Late Show With David Letterman.

© Joe Valdez

Tags: Concert · Documentary

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