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Talking Funny

Dissecting the mechanics of stand-up comedy isn't for everyone, but students of the form will doubtless be attracted to "Talking Funny."

'Talking Funny'

Dissecting the mechanics of stand-up comedy isn’t for everyone, but students of the form will doubtless be attracted to “Talking Funny,” an HBO special that assembles four gifted comics, puts them in comfy armchairs and simply lets the cameras roll. Ricky Gervais — the least-accomplished standup of the bunch — produces and participates, though the most interesting exchanges involve Louis C.K., Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld. The discussion is breezy but informative, less about garnering laughs than a window into each performer’s self-imposed artistic and even moral guidelines.

Issues raised range from the pragmatic — say, when to retire all or part of your act; how long to perform; the wisdom of encores — to the philosophical, including the question of working blue, how “good bits get in your head” and whether comics ought to feel guilty about a cheap laugh.

There’s also an exchange where Gervais presses the others about popular comics who play arena-sized shows despite paper-thin material. The name “Dane Cook” comes to mind but is never actually spoken, and Rock and Seinfeld basically dismiss the notion longevity is possible in such a brutal, unforgiving business without genuine talent.

At times, the chat can become a trifle wonky — more like an academic seminar than mass entertainment. Still, the comics’ conflicting styles and easy rapport make the banter amusing enough, with Rock at one point playfully jabbing at Gervais by saying, “I don’t have ‘The Office.’ This (stand-up) is how I actually make my money.”

By capitalizing on funny people sitting around kibitzing — there’s hardly a cheaper format — the special bears a resemblance to Showtime’s “The Green Room With Paul Provenza,” albeit featuring a higher class of comics.

Unlike a good comedy bit, the ultimate take-away from “Talking Funny” isn’t perceptive enough to stick in your head. But the special is interesting enough that again watching these four guys (or perhaps another assorted quartet) sit around bullshitting isn’t an unattractive thought.

“Talking Funny,” in other words, is worthy of an encore.

Talking Funny

Special; HBO, Fri. April 22, 9 p.m.

  • Production: Taped in New York by Gervais Ink and Moffitt-Lee Prods. Executive producer, Ricky Gervais; supervising producer, Benn Fleishman; producers, Pat Tourk Lee, John Moffitt, Matthew Harvey; production designers, Keith Raywood, Star Theodos Kahn; editor, David W. Foster. 50 MIN.
  • Crew:
  • Cast: Featuring: Louis C.K., Ricky Gervais, Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld.
  • Music By: