“Can you please not abbreviate the title when you write about it?” he asked the crowd Wednesday evening at the Directors Guild of America in Los Angeles. “I’ve been reading some articles that say ‘Dying’ executive producer Jim Carrey.”
He continued, “And to the people who say, ‘Maybe the show’s just a little too dark.’ – Darkness is where diamonds form.”
Carrey was joined by fellow executive producers David Flebotte, Michael Aguilar, and Christina Wayne, and stars Melissa Leo, RJ Cyler, Ari Graynor, Clark Duke, and Michael Angarano, who all walked the gold carpet – in honor of the show’s famed comedy club Goldie’s – for the debut of the Showtime dramedy.
The show takes place in Los Angeles in the 1970’s, an era Carrey calls the Big Bang of comedy. To set the scene, Johnny Carson had just moved “The Tonight Show” to Los Angeles, and if you wanted to make it in the biz, a spot on Carson’s show, and possibly a seat after on his coveted couch, was the only way.
The time signaled a shift in the very essence of comedy. Stand-up went from simply telling jokes to letting a crowd in by sharing the pain of a personal story — rising comedians also really banked on the country’s political turmoil for material.
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“Comics are the last line of defense,” Carrey said. “We tell them the truth and we make something beautiful out of it.”
Though they drew influence from William Knoedelseder’s book, which chronicles the lives of rising comedians who went on to become famous, the show’s creators intentionally crafted fictional characters.
“We would be trapped by their story,” Aguilar said of trying to build characters around performers of the time including Andy Kaufman, David Letterman, Jay Leno, and Richard Pryor. “It would have been too hard to penetrate those characters if they were real.”
Still, the show pulls from real experiences. Anything from little details to major story arcs were taken from Carrey’s life, as well as the journey of young comics at the time. Carrey said bringing this story to the screen was a “labor of love” for him.
Leo’s character, Goldie, is the comedy club owner with an eye for raw talent. The delight of taking on such a colorful character drew the Oscar-winner to the role, and she admitted she didn’t have to look much farther than the show’s creators to get into character.
“The people I’m working with have done too much research,” she told Variety. “I have people I can just go, ‘Oh, who’s this? Tell me how to say his name.’ They all know so much about it.”
Although Cyler (“Power Rangers”) is not an aspiring comedian like his character, he said audiences will find a new respect for stand-up comedy by watching the show.
“I would just see stand-up comedy as ‘Oh, you just get up there and say something funny,'” he told Variety. “But every stand-up comic has a story behind each and every joke.”
This period piece takes a unique twist on comedy by approaching it as a drama, a method Ari Graynor (“Bad Teacher”) said makes the show feel like “a really honest human experience.”
“Our everyday lives exist with comedy and tragedy next to each other,” said Graynor, who plays Cassie, a lone female comedian trying to find her voice in a male-dominated industry.
Then, just like after a night at Goldie’s club, the cast headed to Canter’s Deli for an afterparty filled with corned beef and pastrami on rye, dill pickles and an array of baked goods.
“I’m Dying Up Here” premieres Sunday, June 4 at 7 p.m. on Showtime.