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Doc of the Day: The Comedians of Comedy

Tag along on tour with a bunch of great comics.

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Dir. Michael Blieden, 2005, 103 min, Viewed via Netflix Instant

The general sense I get from all that I’ve learned about the lives of comedians outside of their work (Read: episodes of WTF with Marc Maron) is that they are, ironically, incredibly sad people. The Comedians of Comeddoes very little to disprove the idea that anyone who makes people laugh for a living has to be at least a little bit addled. It’d be sad, except for that it’s just too funny.

For years now, Patton Oswalt, Maria Bamford, Zach Galifianakis, and Brian Posehn have gone on periodic stand-up tours around the US. Rather than play to comedy joints and the like, they’ve gone to small, independent clubs. This documentary follows the quartet on their 2004 tour, interspersing sections of their performances with candid footage of them backstage, on the road, and hanging out after hours.

Their sets give a great sense of their styles as comedians. Oswalt makes his wry observations about culture both pop and otherwise. Bamford jokes about her depression and does funny voices. Galifianakis plays the piano and acts weird. And Posehn has a funny voice. I am, obviously, simplifying things drastically. Honestly, any one of these guys could carry this kind of doc on their own. Watching them all together, bouncing off and goofing around with one another, is terrific. It’s like being invited to watch the greatest hits of home movies featuring people who are far smarter, funnier, and more interesting than you.

But there’s also moments of poignancy seeded throughout. On the stage, these people electrify. Off, they let their guard down, and we see the vulnerability underneath. Bamford in particular reveals what an exposed wire she is, and you get the feeling that she’d do something terrible to herself without the emotional outlet that comedy provides.

The Comedians of Comedy reminds me strongly of Conan O’Brien Can’t Stopand not just because I’m feeling nostalgic as the year of docs draws to a close. I feel that this film accomplishes what Conan tried to do, in worming its way inside the head of the comedic brain. It’s hilarious and probing in equal measure, and it’s a must if your a fan of any of these comedians, and still highly recommendable even if you aren’t.

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