Comedian (2002) / Documentary-Comedy

MPAA Rated: R for language      
Running Time: 82 min.

Cast: Jerry Seinfeld, Orny Adams, Colin Quinn, Bill Cosby, Chris Rock, Jay Leno
Director:  Christian Charles
Review published May 1, 2003

From about 1979 to 1990, Jerry Seinfeld was one of the more popular stand-up comedians around, frequently appearing on Carson and Letterman, as well as having the occasional hour-long HBO specials.  However, his popularity would soar to new heights, and he'd become a household name, when his television show Seinfeld wound up being the biggest hit on television for many years.  This also meant long hours writing and rehearsing, and outside of the classic bits he'd do on the show of his old material, not much time for his stand-up routine.

Now, with the show behind him, Jerry decides on making a comeback, only starting from scratch with all new material, and although he is a familiar name to most, coming up with a solid hour of material again proves just as hard today as it was as a struggling young stand-up.  COMEDIAN is a documentary chronicling his comeback, and his conversations with fellow comedians, who offer him advice, as well as his musings on the difficulty of re-honing his skills after the long absence.  From five minute stints in small clubs, all the way to an appearance on Letterman, Seinfeld develops his material until it gels into satisfaction, while relearning all of the do's and don'ts of comedy he had all but forgotten over the absence.

COMEDIAN isn't really a compelling documentary about the trials and tribulations of comedy, but it does maintain your interest due to lots of behind the scenes footage.  We always see the comedian when he is doing his shtick, but it's rare to catch a glimpse of them before and after a performance, when he is at his most anguished.   You'll develop an appreciation for the difficulty of putting oneself out for the amusement or rejection of an audience of strangers, some of whom have no qualms about telling them they stink.  Of course, Seinfeld is a personality, and given the benefit of the doubt by the star-struck audience, so it's a nice touch to incorporate another struggling, and largely unknown, comedian, Orny Adams, to further show the nature of the industry for those still trying to make a name for themselves.

Orny does come off looking lightweight and somewhat immature, probably not too different from many comedians out there, alternating between delusions of grandeur and feelings of complete inadequacy.  Contrasting the two comedians, Adams seems to think the audience is the key to making him a success, and if they don't laugh, it's because they aren't smart or savvy enough to appreciate his act.  Seinfeld shows more maturity, knowing that if the audience isn't laughing, it's because he failed to properly engage them, finding fault inwardly for things falling flat.

COMEDIAN is a passable diversion for most, and if you're an aspiring comedian yourself, or have ever given it much thought, you'll probably find some of the wisdom imparted by such comedians as Bill Cosby, Robert Klein, Garry Shandling, and the rest to be immensely rewarding.  Never really reaching for much more than a chronicle of one comedian's comeback, it never rises above to deliver a deeper context to be truly memorable.  However, the entertainment value is there due to the comic elements and the aforementioned behind-the scenes footage, making this 82 minute documentary fly by with ease.

Qwipster's rating:

2003 Vince Leo