How can you tell when a comedian who tries to be dark and edgy is going crazy? That’s the question posed by “Brody Stevens: Enjoy It!,” an unexpectedly thought-provoking series that Comedy Central is billing as its “first drama.” Not exactly, but the show does a credible job – through video and extensive interviews with the comic and his pals, who include exec producer Zach Galifianakis – of capturing Stevens’ on-the-fringes act and spectacular Twitter meltdown, eventually prompting his concerned friends to intervene. Whatever the future holds for Stevens, this look at his past goes beyond just the tears of a clown.
“I think a lot of comics are wired differently,” Galifianakis suggests in a direct-to-camera interview, capturing some of the difficulties friends and fellow comics faced in recognizing whether Stevens was genuinely in trouble or, as some perceived it, merely engaged in some brilliantly elaborate version of performance art.
Beginning slowly, Stevens is shown onstage and in various movie cameos, introducing him as someone with an established career and wide swath of comedy pals, if not exactly a household name. Yet his eccentricities bleed into his personal life, including a lengthy estrangement from his sister and an awkward attempt at reconciliation as what amounts to an 80th birthday present for their mother.
Expanded to 12 episodes from an earlier HBO Digital series, it’s not till near the end of the opening half-hour (wisely, two episodes are airing back to back) that the show gets into the meat of the story: How Stevens went off his antidepressants and unleashed a nonstop string of commentary via Twitter, which quickly grew darker and more disturbing. After referencing having a gun, friends eventually had him committed to the UCLA psychiatric ward, which didn’t stop Stevens from continuing to rail against them and rant via rather ingenious means.
Granted, there’s something perversely meta about Stevens, Galifianakis and Generate’s Dave Rath serving as exec producers on this program, in which they play ongoing roles, as well as what viewers are to make of Stevens’ present condition. In that respect, the show doesn’t hide behind the legitimacy of public service quite so much as it simply provide a blunt look at one particularly tortured mind, letting viewers connect the dots as they see fit.
Time will tell, ultimately, whether dissecting Stevens on TV is the best therapy for what ailed him. But while watching the show isn’t particularly enjoyable, once drawn into Stevens’ story, it’s also difficult to turn away.