A review of a new documentary about comedians, “Misery Loves Comedy,” which poses the question: “Do you have to be miserable to be funny?” Rating: 2 stars out of 4.
So, what happens when you round up a herd of comedians to talk about what they do? Not many jokes, that’s for sure.
For the documentary “Misery Loves Comedy,” filmmaker/comedian Kevin Pollak filmed dozens of funny people examining the old question: Do you have to be miserable to be funny? It’s an impressive and wide-ranging cast, including Tom Hanks, Jim Gaffigan, Richard Lewis, Whoopi Goldberg, Penn Jillette, Jimmy Fallon, Jason Alexander, Amy Schumer and many more. Are they miserable? No; everyone seems to be having a great time. Are they funny? Um, not so much.
Essentially, what we have here are a group of people talking about themselves, not necessarily in an amusing fashion. We hear a lot about how comedians are “weird,” how they were misfit kids growing up, how they’re wildly insecure, how they worry about never being funny again. Pollak also includes childhood pictures of many of these people, most of which serve only to prove that, yes, they were once children. And we learn that comedians tend to clump together at social gatherings (like many other groups of people with a shared interest?), and that “being different is good.”
Movie Review ★★
‘Misery Loves Comedy,’ a documentary directed by Kevin Pollak. 95 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. Sundance (21+).
There are a few bright moments here: Alexander describes a moment in which he misjudged an audience and told a terrible joke on the Emmy broadcast, resulting in flop sweat “like Albert Brooks in ‘Broadcast News.’ ” Gaffigan, pondering the movie’s central question, concludes that maybe it’s not misery that’s essential to comedy, but annoyance. “When I see a vegetable tray, I’m annoyed. Nobody wants that.” Freddie Prinze Jr. speaks, casually but movingly, about his late father. And Christopher Guest demonstrates an impressive ability to make a strange, whale-vocalization-like sound that seems to be coming from across the room.
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But mostly, “Misery Loves Comedy” feels like the same material, over and over. At the end, we see that it’s dedicated to Robin Williams; it’s hard not to think about how much better — and funnier — this movie might have been with his presence.