One has to admire Jerry Seinfeld. Who else would take a two year break after wrapping up his highly rated “show about nothing” and then come back with a movie about “nothing”?
Personally, I’ve always bristled at Seinfeld being about nothing. Like most great humor, Seinfeld was about real life and based on everyday life and its annoying trivialities. Comedian in turn, is not so much about nothing as it is about starting over with nothing: which is was Seinfeld is doing. A documentary eerily reminiscent of D. A. Pennebaker’s Don't Look Back, (which followed Bob Dylan on a 1964 tour of England) Comedian follows Jerry Seinfeld from the small New York comedy clubs, where he started years earlier and where he is back once again developing all new material (After retiring the old material on the HBO special I'm Telling You For the Last Time.) and across the country to David Letterman and the TONIGHT SHOW with Jay Leno. We see it all. We see the blown lines on stage: the hecklers, the backstage banter and feedback, the triumphant moments and the not so triumphant moments, his interaction with friends, fans and the audience. But this is not only Jerry’s show. Another shares his spotlight as well, an up and coming comedian named Orny Adams.
Orny is an edgy, raw and high-strung comedian who, while talented (he does some hilarious bits about cell phones and bus advertising) comes across alternately as arrogant and neurotic. He seems overly concerned with his image and with making it in comedy and his presence in the movie provides a contrast to Jerry’s approach. This is illustrated in one scene where Adams blames a routine, which he builds around a write up in a local paper, falling flat on the audience and time of day while Jerry, in a later scene, refuses to make excuses for a less than successful set, taking full responsibility for its failings.
For those of you who only know Jerry Seinfeld from his TV show, Comedian is an eye opener. He cusses, argues, blows lines, has moments of self-doubt and nervousness and generally presents a somewhat darker version of his television persona, darker because this is the real Jerry in all his human vulnerability. (Illustrated in a rather chilling scene where he waits tensely in a club’s “green room”, which is interspersed with soundless scenes of himself onstage.) There are touching moments as well, such as Jerry backstage with his wife and baby daughter and the climactic scene, with Jerry having a heart to heat talk with comedy veteran Bill Cosby, after Jerry expresses awe at the Cosby’s doing two hour sets (without a break) twice a night.
I would recommend Comedian to anyone interested in becoming a stand up comic or at least interested in stand up comedy. The film provides an excellent view behind the scenes of the trials and tribulations of a comedian and shows, as well, the differences between a raw beginner and a seasoned professional.