Misery Loves Comedy (2015)
Editor’s Notes: Misery Loves Comedy is currently out in limited theatrical release.
As a German, I have obviously come across the widespread fact that we are not the funniest people (thanks for pointing that out again, Kathleen Madigan) and that we are unable to understand or at least fully “get” humor and therefore have been the butt of many jokes, but then again, who am I to tell? Sitting down to watch Kevin Pollak’s documentary Misery loves Comedy I was hopeful to unravel the mysteries of this thing called comedy, the nature of comedians and their unbreakable desire to make everyone around them laugh out loud or at least turn a frown into a smile. Since the title is an indication to the old saying misery loves company, the documentary’s title promises an exploration of the dark side of the business and a look at the melancholy and sorrows underneath the surface.
Although Misery Loves Comedy offers a glimpse behind the curtain with many personal anecdotes, jokes and a decent amount of self-irony, the documentary does not present ground-breaking new material.
Pollak, an actor and stand-up comedian himself, explores the question of whether or not you have to be miserable to be funny in his directorial feature film debut. He sat down with over 60 famous comedians, actors and writers including Judd Apatow, Jimmy Fallon, Lisa Kudrow, Jon Favreau, Matthew Perry among many others to discuss their devotion to stir laughs but also reflect on their personal history on how they started out to bare their souls in front of other people and embraced their talent. Through in-depth interviews the performers open up about their desire to entertain the masses but also about their vulnerability and misery. Although comedy can often be seen as an outlet for funny people to either release or cover up their anger or depression—a serious issues that is often overlooked—Misery loves Comedy remains comedic, not only through the anecdotes that are being told but also through the honest, cheerful delivery despite its context.
Except for the occasional photographs added to highlight past events, the documentary features no additional footage but its interview sequences and is therefore highly conversational. To not bore its audience, Pollak cut back and forth between interviews and used the editing stage to create an imaginary narrative. Misery Loves Comedy is divided in different chapters, focusing on several talking points. The comedians talk about their funny dads and general influences, their narcissistic need for attention and compare stand-up comedy to doing drugs and explain the rush and the thrill they get when they are on stage successfully making a crowd of people roar with laughter. On the other hand, the audience also learns about comedy as a means to deal with introversion and shyness, as Jason Alexander for example explained, many comedians openly talk about their nerdy past but also emphasize that it is okay to be weird and different. Maria Bamford is one of the few to openly talk about her bipolar disorder while others share their biggest failures on stage, including Lewis Black recalling someone in the crowd asking him “Why don’t you go home and gargle with razor blades”.
In terms of its quest to explore the downside of comedy, the documentary just scratches the surface.
Although Misery Loves Comedy offers a glimpse behind the curtain with many personal anecdotes, jokes and a decent amount of self-irony, the documentary does not present ground-breaking new material. In terms of its quest to explore the downside of comedy, the documentary just scratches the surface. While some comedians admit that comedy has its roots in sadness, angst and pain, these statements tend to stand on their own without further in-depth explanation. Misery Loves Comedy dedicates only a small amount of its running time to its fundamental question and discussing serious issues such as depression and suicide. It is unfortunate that those important aspects have been neglected until the very end of the documentary, especially regarding the tragic death of the late Robin Williams that shed some light on the off-limit subject matter no one is willing to talk about.
Misery Loves Comedy offers a glimpse behind the curtain with many personal anecdotes, jokes and a decent amount of self-irony, but the documentary does not present ground-breaking new material and neglects to answer its fundamental question: does misery love comedy?