Few films have sincerely captured the psyche of stand-up comics. Narrative features like “Punchline” came across as too candy-coated and Martin Scorsese’s dark “King of Comedy” focused on a wannabe comedian gone stalker. Last fall, Christian Charles’ docu “Comedian” filled the void, observing career angst from the p.o.v. of Jerry Seinfeld and rising comic Orny Adams. The DVD’s shortcoming is that only a fraction of the 600 hours lensed has made it onto the disc in the form of five deleted scenes. Nonetheless, viewers will delight in commentary tracks, one by Colin Quinn and Seinfeld, the other by Charles and producer Gary Streiner.
Charles explains that much of the missing footage consisted of Seinfeld’s lengthy dinner conversations and other comedians’ bits, most of which would have thrown off the pic’s pacing. The commentaries, however, are so flawlessly synched with the pic’s scenes that the viewer gets the sense of watching three docus instead of one.
One the audio tracks is when Adams and manager George Shapiro (who also reps Seinfeld) are visited by comedy handler Barry Katz at the Just for Laughs festival in Montreal. Katz advises Adams that brilliant comedians like Steven Wright, let their act speak for itself; their work isn’t validated by sitcom deals. The ambitious Adams is all too smug about Katz’s two cents.
Charles explains that the impromptu moment turned into a pivotal scene, the docu’s underlying theme of craft over career.”You have a lot of people cheering for Barry and calling Orny out, and a lot of comics at the same time thinking that Katz was inappropriate,” says Charles. “That’s the beauty of this scene — you can make your own mind up.”
While the pic concludes Adams’ story with his “Late Show” debut, the DVD featurette “Where is Orny Now?” perfectly caps his character arc. After making no secret of his ambition at the start of the pic, he now is practicing what Katz preached: savoring more freedom with his act than he ever could have with his elapsed Warner Bros. sitcom deal.One disc tidbit that unfortunately turns up illegible is the “Anatomy of a Joke” section, featuring the stand-up notes of Seinfeld, Quinn and Adams. Without a zoom feature on your player, don’t expect to be able to read any of it. Interviews with Seinfeld and Adams by Martin Short’s Jiminy Glick character, done exclusively for the disc, are merely padding but do elicit guffaws.
What makes the whole exercise potent are Seinfeld and Adams: They unabashedly display their comedic shortcomings and bluntly speak their minds. Seinfeld embarked on the project two years after his sitcom wrapped. Aiming to show the process of developing an hour’s worth of fresh stage material, the filmmakers wound up with much more.Watching footage of himself pacing in a hotel prior to a gig in Washington D.C., Seinfeld remarks, “this part of the film is painful for me to watch. Show business has many of these moments where you don’t feel good.”