Published on April 23rd, 2011 | by Sharilyn Johnson


Talking Talking Funny

So, what’s it really like?

Long before many of us were in a position to actually speak to a real live comedian, there was little we could do to imagine exactly what it’s like to be a part of that seemingly exclusive* club. (*this label vanishes after your first open mic)

Depending on interviews, we’d sit on the edge of our seats while a comic ventured into serious analysis for a brief moment before dismissing the practice altogether. “This is boring,” they’d say, chastising the journalist’s line of questioning and moving on.

Fortunately, in the past decade, this has shifted. Documentaries about comedy are plentiful, dvd commentaries fill in the gaps, and bloggers tirelessly deconstruct things that you didn’t even ask to have deconstructed. You’re welcome.

Taking comedy nerd bait to a whole new level is the special Talking Funny, which premiered on HBO April 22.

Ricky Gervais pulled together the panel of standup veterans, and you’d be hard pressed to find a more respected trio for him to enlist: Louis C.K., Chris Rock, and Jerry Seinfeld (who raised the comedy insider bar with 2002’s Comedian).

You might have read synopses that rattle off what’s covered in the special. Whether it’s bad to curse. Whether any subjects are off-limits. Experiences starting out.

The summary sells it short. Way short.

This isn’t, as you might assume, a stilted round-table built around easy-to-digest bullet points. There isn’t any air of comedian-interviewing-a-comedian (like David Steinberg’s series Sit-Down Comedy), where the questions aren’t really questions as much as they’re set-ups to palatable answers.

While all the subjects listed above are touched on, it’s not in a premeditated way. It’s a true discussion, and it bends and curves and goes to all the unexpected places discussions go. I didn’t expect them to analyze Seinfeld’s early (temporary) adoption of the word “fuck”. I also didn’t expect to see Gervais admitting some insecurities, like feeling a need to prove himself to other comedians after easily finding success with The Office.

They cover topics you never hear comedians talk about. What to actually do on stage in a large theatre setting while you’re getting an applause break. Or debate the merits of doing a sound-check and a walk-through of the venue. Or the difference between delivering a bit as a polished joke, and delivering it underneath a layer of attitude and persona.

Even though they tread some heavily technical ground, and go some places that John Q. Suburbanite might not exactly follow, it’s not exclusionary. Mainly because the whole thing is so damn funny. Besides, if you ask anyone to talk about their passion for an hour, you won’t be bored. Guaranteed. Multiply that by four.

With the exception of Gervais, these guys have known each other for decades. Even if you had no interest in what it’s really like to be them, their joy in talking shop with each other – and just spending time with each other – makes every minute of Talking Funny worthwhile.

Talking Funny repeats April 27 at 9pm on HBO (America only), and repeats throughout May.


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.

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  • The Colbert Report A-Z

    Third Beat editor Sharilyn Johnson presents the ultimate fan guide to The Colbert Report, available from all major booksellers including amazon.com