review by Elias Savada, 25 October 2002

Somewhere between the glorious 1990s that was Seinfeld and the presumed somewhere-way-down-the-road sequel I'm Telling You for the Last Time, Again (HBO, April 29, 2029, coincidentally Jerry's seventy-fifth birthday -- set your VCR now) lies the quaint amusement Comedian. Sure, there are a fair sampling of laughs over the course of this eighty-one-minute survey of the stand-up comedic landscape that was once, and will be again, conquered by the Man Who Would Be Funny. It won't bust your gut -- and it's not intended to -- it's merely a blandly cinematic surgical examination (if this documentary was really bad I would have used the word autopsy) of what makes a joke a joke. Inspiration begets concept leads to delivery with aim of laughter, yet even the best laid comic equation can fall prey to an ambivalent audience.

Director Christian Charles, who co-developed the successful American Express campaign with you know who, makes his feature film debut with Comedian, a digital video excursion in which he and producer Gary Streiner follow Seinfeld's year-plus rebirth as a stand-up comic. We observe him experiment with new material, flub his delivery, and still catch himself with the professional aplomb we have grown to admire in him. We catch glimpses of his act at various venues around New York City, including The Comic Strip, where he was the master of ceremonies back in the late 1970s, the Gotham Comedy Club, the Comedy Cellar, Carolines, and plenty of others. He's on stage and off, dealing with hecklers ("Is this your first gig?") and schmoozing and boozing with friends Colin Quinn (ex of Saturday Night Live) and Chris Rock. Quinn's got some great material about germ-infested refreshments at the movie theater and the staff that puts them there ("They piss in the ginger ale."). [Reminder: Ask my son, who works at the AMC Fenway Park, about this.]

And we suffer through the brash, arrogant, self-absorbed, and extremely insecure manic-depressive Orny Adams, a thirty-something, up-and-coming comedian who falls under the wing of George Shapiro, Seinfeld's manager, who's obviously intent on getting his client exposure here at any cost. For Orny (who calls their kid Orny?) it's been nearly a decade trying (heck, it took Seinfeld nearly as long before he got his big break on television), but his anger at the lack of celebrity the world owes him is a real let down. As for his comedy, he hits, he misses, but look, Ma, he's in a movie! Sure he's brutally honest on himself ("It's painful watching yourself on tape."), but just as jealous of the next humorist who may have had a better night. The audience responded with a cumulative "get a life," accepting his participation in the film as overly generous. He should have been in less of the movie, frankly. The filmmakers should have used the Google-gauge: Orny gets 168 hits in that well-known Internet search engine, Jerry gets about 80,500.

Thankfully, when Jerry's doing his unassuming shtick as he approaches the half-century mark (been there, done that, it's not funny, or is it?), and when it's going well, the punchlines hit like waterbombs exploding on a hot city sidewalk. There are flitting glimpses of other comic greats that Seinfeld has admired: thinking man's comedian Robert Klein, NBC staple Jay Leno, the intelligently witty Gary Shandling a.k.a. Larry Sanders, and the comedian's comedian Bill Cosby, revered by Seinfeld when he visits him in Newark in between two two-and-one-half-hour shows. Klein's stint is brief but divine, relating his displeasure with the state of Florida. Having sent two good sixty-five-year-old parents there, then, boom, thirty years later, they're dead!

Director Charles doesn't let the film slide, adequately gluing together action from on stage to back stage to off stage, showing us the evolution of a comedy as stand up. It's quite amusing to hear Jerry talk "shop" with his fellow entertainers, griping about pacing, the curse of a poor memory, the trepidation of using rookie material before it ripens, and zinging a successful opening bit.

A classic soundtrack including John Mayall (Room to Move), The Band (When I Paint My Masterpiece), Steely Dan (Deacon Blues), Allman Brothers, Traffic, and other great bands rocks constantly in the background, without overwhelming the film. Nice touch.

Comedian is ultimately a home movie about a family of comics (Jerry's wife and infant make cameo appearances) and the trials and tribulations they (well mostly Jerry) experience "growing up" and hitting the road, be it the streets of the Big Apple, Washington, DC's Improv Comedy Theater, Cleveland, Tempe, L.A., Hermosa Beach, and West Orange, New Jersey. What do we learn in the end? That Jerry Seinfeld is a man humble in his celebrity, yet a consummate professional who takes his job very seriously. Preparing for months before nailing a "comeback" spot on the Letterman Show, he makes us laugh at nothing. That's quite a talent.

Directed by:
Christian Charles

Jerry Seinfeld
Orny Adams
George Shapiro
Colin Quinn
Robert Klein
Chris Rock
Gary Shandling
Jay Leno
Bill Cosby

R - Restricted.
Under 17 requires
parent or adult






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