If you enjoyed the behind the scenes of stand-up comedy documentary Jerry Seinfeld Comedian, you will enjoy the National Film Board of Canada documentary The Next Big Thing. The documentary follows six Canadian stand-up comics over an eighteen month period as they work at becoming the next big thing in comedy. Originally a three part TV special in 2003, The Next Big Thing is a fascinating DVD about stand-up comedy and comics; a very original and not often seen take on the world of young stand-up comics as they struggle night in and night out to further their career and get to that next big step in the business.
The Next Big Thing is a bit long at 167 minutes but aside from cutting out a couple of clips from the comics' sets or some comedian backstage or at home bits it is difficult to see how else the story could be told in the first two episodes. Episode 3, Los Angeles could have used more editing and I feel it is 47 minutes long because that's what was required to get the documentary on TV.
Episode 1, Toronto, sets up the format for this stand-up comedy documentary: clips for the comic on stage doing well or not, bits where the comic is talking to the camera before / after the show or the next day, the camera following the comedian around during the day, and on screen indications as to where and when this is taking place or what happened in the meantime. This first episode follows the comics as they try to get a spot at one of the Just For Laughs Montreal International Comedy Gala shows where all the comedy business people go to discover new faces.
You soon realize The Next Big Thing is going to be as raw and behind the scenes as it can be. For example, in episode 1 comics Dave Martin and Kristeen von Hagen break up after four years and you eventually get the story. There are many, many good moments in this stand-up comedy documentary DVD though sometimes I wondered how real they were: is it just a neat bit of editing when Martin is taping his Comedy Now! special and killing while Von Hagen is stinking up Yuk Yuks? I also really enjoyed Sean Majumder's video tape bit and wish I had seen it live.
Episode 2 of The Next Big Thing follows the comics at the Just For Laughs festival as the winner works towards his / her gala show and the other comedians try to be seen or have been booked in small shows -the ones where the real people go to. Just For Laughs is important for these stand-up comics, whether or not they got the gala spot: you never know who is in the audience, even at the smallest venues, and sometimes deals can be made or broken even without a gala show spot. The episode also shows the schmoozing taking place at the hotel where the festival has its headquarters.
The Next Big Thing closes in Los Angeles where 3 of the comics are trying to get some attention, a TV deal, and American money. This is the episode where a lot of cutting could have been made to shorten the documentary a bit. A few of the scenes are basically repeats of things that happened to the same comic before or do not really move the story forward (such as Majumder driving to L.A or the scenes where Majumder tells the same story back to back twice). There is a really surreal scene where von Hagen and Elliott seem to be working an empty food court at 10 in the morning. Episode 3 is the part of the documentary that sometimes feels like it keeps hoping for something to happen and it doesn't.
Something I really enjoyed about The Next Big Thing is even if you are very familiar with the world of stand-up there are a few surprises in the works in this documentary. Though it could have been shorter and tighter --a little retrospect would have helped cut some stuff out-this is a quite interesting and original documentary about the world of comedy.
The one thing I really disliked about the The Next Big Thing DVD is although the documentary is chaptered in three parts there are no chapter breaks within each episode so you are stuck fast forwarding through the episode to get to where you were when you left off for whatever reason. I also could not get the subtitles to work though there are supposed to be some.