By Zach Martin
If anything, Kevin Pollack’s new documentary “Misery Loves Comedy” proves how tight-knit the American comedy scene is. The list of comedians who appear in the film is quite impressive. It includes young up-and-comers like Amy Schumer and Scott Aukerman, as well as industry veterans like Martin Short and Janeane Garofolo. The list goes on and on — close to 50 comedians are featured in talking head interviews. Pollack’s questions go through their childhoods, motivation for choosing this career, and whether sadness is necessary to be funny (the inspiration for the title).
However, the vast cast proves detrimental to the film’s goal as none of the comics are given enough time to truly open up and bear all to the camera or provide much insight into their creative process. The need to include everyone means that none of them are given the opportunity to go into depth. Mostly it is composed of surface-level explanations of the comedians’ journeys and philosophies. For a film that sets out to answer if someone needs to be miserable to succeed in comedy, very few of the subjects are willing to talk frankly about their personal struggles. Even those who do are given very little screen time, although, granted, everyone is given little screen time. Pollack would have benefited from cutting down his guest list significantly, allowing greater detail and deeper conversations with the remaining voices.
The most successful moments occur when Pollack allows one comedian to tell an extended anecdote from their life without cutting away. The subjects rose to their level of prominence by being captivating storytellers, so naturally these instances are often poignant perspectives on the hardships of the job and, most importantly, hilarious. A highlight is Christopher Guest demonstrating his ability to make a sound that so convincingly seems to be coming from another part of the room, to the point that a subtitle appears to assure that Guest is actually doing it. However, these moments are scattershot and leave much more to be desired.
There are passionate tributes to legends like George Carlin and Richard Pryor, but given the comedians’ universal praise of Pryor, the lack of African American voices is astounding. Whoopi Goldberg is the only black comedian featured and her appearance is so brief, it almost seems unnecessary. Considering the array of performers presented, this is strange. Additionally, there is a significant gender imbalance in the interviewees, which may be more indicative of a larger issue in the comedy scene than a problem specific to the film, but it is still deserving of skepticism.
“Misery Loves Comedy” will be somewhat exciting for comedy geeks but its desire to include everyone mars its ability to provide true insight. It only scratches the surface on a subject rich with potential.
Zach Martin is a staff writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.