Then comes the dedication in the closing credits – to Robin Williams. When we learnt of the death of the revered comedian, there was something especially upsetting about the nature of it, given he was such an effervescent, ineffably charismatic performer, and to know that inside he wasn’t happy, was difficult to comprehend. That paves the way for a discussion point, and allows for several of our subjects to speak openly, and candidly about their own state of being, and whether you need to go through hard times in your personal life to take that on to the stage and to help form that intimate bond with the audience. That’s what makes this documentary interesting, it’s just a shame you’ve got to sit through a good hour of tedious conversation before eventually reaching it.
Pollak has assembled quite a collection of talented individuals to interview, ranging from Tom Hanks to Larry David, and from Steve Coogan to Amy Schumer – to discuss all things comedy. Given we’re dealing with people who have dedicated their lives to the arts, to performing, it guarantees enjoyable anecdotes and engaging conversation. As they get paid to stand in front of a room full of strangers and speak so openly about their life, it lends itself to this piece as they have no barriers. However on the flip side of that, the very nature of their vocation and how excruciatingly personal they can be, means that we’ve seen this all before. Hearing them speak about their parents, or childhood, much of this derives from their own act anyway, we see this in their art. Perhaps it would be better to take them out of their comfort zone, to dig deeper into the politics of the industry.
Pollak only does so in the final quarter of an hour when he asks the pertinent question of whether comedy needs misery. But by that stage we’re already somewhat disengaged, and much of that comes down to the amount of talking heads. There are over 50 funny people in this – which disallows the chance to immerse yourself in any one person’s tale, or feel entwined with their respective journeys. Instead we move between them all at a fast pace, never given enough time to truly connect with any individual. Perhaps a smaller collective, maybe five or six, each given more time to expand on what they’re saying, would make for a more compelling watch.
What would also help in that regard, is if Pollak had taken more risks in his presentation. Instead he opts for a substandard, formulaic format, with strictly interviews edited together, with no footage of any kind interwoven into proceedings. We could just do with an injection of life, a notable, visual shift to help keep us engaged – because sadly, and in spite of the talented performers illuminating our screen, tedium does kick in.
There’s one moment when American chat show host Jimmy Fallon is speaking, and he claims that whenever you go to a party, no matter the occasion, you’ll always find the comedians together. Well this endeavour feels like you’ve just walked over uninvited and interrupted their conversation – as a film that is by comedians, for comedians.