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Published on December 20th, 2008 | by Sharilyn Johnson

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Last-minute gift suggestion for the dormant comic

A few weeks ago I got talking with an improv classmate of mine who used to do standup. Shop talk ensued, and at one point I presumptively inquired “you’ve seen the Jerry Seinfeld documentary Comedian, right?”

He had not. Worse, someone had bought it for him as a gift years ago, and it sat neglected on the shelf because he assumed it was a another concert dvd. I would have reached across the table and smacked him one if not for the 2 pints of valuable lager sitting between us.

Film recommendations often fall on deaf ears, but this one required some hard-core convincing. Comedian had such a huge impact on me that I couldn’t leave it to chance.

I’d always loved and respected comedy, but aside from the privilege of interviewing the guys doing one-nighters at my campus while in journalism school, there was nothing I could really DO with that. I’d become accustomed to appreciating comedy from afar.

In 2002, I heard about this movie coming out, and was instantly intrigued. It didn’t disappoint. I knew what I was seeing was the truth of the standup experience. I walked out of theatre with the singular thought: “I have to be around this”.

After becoming actively involved in my local comedy scene in a peripheral and a social way, and then finally starting to perform myself, I still view the film as completely accurate. Sitting around the comics’ table IS like that. Building a setlist CAN be stressful. Bombing DOES happen to everyone. You WILL meet strong personalities along the way. And all these things ARE awesome.

After excitedly explaining all this, and repeatedly pleading him to watch, my classmate was convinced (or maybe just afraid I’d go Clockwork Orange on his ass). He took the cellophane off the dvd that Saturday.

The result? After 5 years away from the mic, he was up all night writing. And now two of us can’t believe the dvd collected dust on his shelf all this time.

This film kicks asses.

Miramax’s marketing department came up with 7 taglines for the film. One poster screams, in large white lettering: “Without a doubt, the single most horrifying movie you’ll every see (if you want to be a stand up comedian)”.

They got it wrong. Perhaps it’s horrifying if you aren’t a comedian at heart and can’t understand why anyone would go through such a difficult process. But if you are, you’ll only see the passion, dedication, and camaraderie that make it all so great.

If there’s a dormant comic in your life – or if that describes you – this is the movie to watch (or rewatch) as new year’s resolutions loom.

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About the Author

is the author of the book Bears & Balls: The Colbert Report A-Z. Called "one of the city’s most discriminating comedy critics” by NOW Magazine, Sharilyn has been covering comedy for longer than she cares to admit. She served as the comedy reporter for Winnipeg's Uptown Magazine for five years, and was the host of the radio show Laugh Tracks for three seasons. Her work has also appeared in the Toronto Star, the Winnipeg Free Press, The Apiary, and on CBC Radio's national comedy programs LOL and Definitely Not the Opera.



6 Responses to Last-minute gift suggestion for the dormant comic

  1. Chica says:

    I did love the film, but spent much of it hurling objects at that guy who kept going on about “making it” and getting television appearances. What an arse.

    I shall confess comedy has always been my passion and an ideal world career, but I watch sports for a living instead, which still qualifies as an eternally-interesting job…

  2. @ Chica – someday I’ll tell you the stories about me shuttling Orny Adams around Winnipeg for 4 days. His personality is exactly what you see in the movie, but I can’t bring myself to think of him as an actual asshole. Underneath all that insecurity, I think he’s a pretty decent guy. And his hour was stronger than I would have guessed.

  3. Chica says:

    I think his problem was seeing comedy as a career like any other, but it never really can be. When he said in the movie that his friends were bankers, I figured that was the trouble. Then again, people say I’m too laissez-faire about… everything.

  4. Peter Cianfarani says:

    Since you convinced me to watch that film, I have been writing steady now for the last couple of weeks. I pulled my old stuff off the shelf (the discarded humour I didn’t think fit for the time) and reclaimed various portions for the new set.

    This is all your fault and if I didn’t respect you as a person and hold you in such high regard, I’d fly out there and kiss you! But I know what that might do to your reputation.

    Thanks!

  5. @ Peter — you’re right, that would absolutely improve my reputation. ;)

    I went almost a year without watching the movie, because it was stuck in a box in Winnipeg until September. Having watched it again last week as a refresher (so we could discuss it), I feel incredibly lame for going all of 2008 without doing a set.

  6. Pingback: Christmas or BUST | Third Beat

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