Monday, June 05, 2017

Comedy Is Hard

I watched the pilot of Showtime's I'm Dying Up Here last night. It's based on a well-done book about the world of stand-up comedy in 1970s Los Angeles, but the show itself is fictionalized.

It's a good concept with an appealing cast, but suffers from the same problems that ruined HBO's Vinyl, last year's expensive flop set in the exact same era but looking at the music industry.  Both shows should be fun, but all we seem to get is the misery of the people involved.

Sure, there's wisecracking and bits of routines*, but mostly it's people making big speeches and acting self-important about the world of comedy.  And for people who are supposed to be making others laugh, they mostly come across as joyless.

You can do a dramatic show about comedians.  But where's the sense of fun?  Just like Vinyl, you want to get involved in an exciting world, and all you get is despair (and whining).

And just like Vinyl, the pilot is built around a death.  Vinyl had a murder, while I'm Dying Up Here has a suicide.  One of the comedians who's "made it" walks in front of a bus.  And much of the rest of the show deals with the aftermath.

Not only is this a bad idea, it shows the producers don't have faith in their concept.  Just trying to make it in the world of comedy, if properly done, is plenty dramatic.  There's no need to trick things up with a death.  (And I'm aware that in the book the show is based on, there was a comic who took his life.  It's no excuse for bad drama to say it's inspired by a real situation.)

Look at classic shows like The Sopranos and The Wire.  They were about crime, violence and the basest human instincts, but they were fun to watch (and often funny).  I'm Dying Up Here is mostly depressing.  I'm not sure if I can bring myself to watch another episode.  (If you want to see a better show about making it stand-uip, check out HBO's Crashing, which debuted earlier this year.)

Meanwhile, I also watched the fifth episode of the revived Twin Peaks.  I wasn't actually looking forward to it.  I enjoyed the original show (especially at the beginning) but felt it had run its course.  But the new show is its own thing. It's not even Twin Peaks, exactly, as only a small portion of the action takes place there, and much of the cast is new as well.

All 18 episodes were written by the show's original creators, Mark Frost and David Lynch, and are all directed by Lynch.  So what we're getting is essentially an 18 hour, well-funded David Lynch movie.  Getting an hour a week of Lynchian weirdness is a blast.

*One Italian comic does a routine on the Carson show where he talks about how his mom would bring him a "bowl of pasta."  In 1973, pasta was an exotic word.  A comedian getting his first shot at the big time would have said "bowl of spaghetti."

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