Jerry Seinfeld
Miramax 2002

Comedian is not a funny movie – it is a movie about the business of being funny staring Jerry Seinfeld and Orny Adams. This movie is a strong well made documentary (considering it is shot on video) following the efforts of Jerry Seinfeld to reestablish himself after taking some time off and very publicly burying all his old stand-up material and tracking the uneven rise of the self destructive funny man Orny Adams.

The business of being funny is at the heart of it mercilessly serious. Comedian gives us a window into the process and real work that goes into being a comedian. The process is one filled with self-doubt, delusion, self recrimination, workaholism, fear and desperate need for approval. The film opens with Jerry Seinfeld heading into New York’s Comedy Cellar to grab some mike time and start the process of building a full stand-up act.

If there is a major weakness in the movie is the lack of a clear timeline to follow. The viewer is witness to snips of Jerry working on stage at Stand-up NY, Comedy Show Case, Comedy Strip Live and even an brutal onstage meltdown at the Gotham Comedy Club where he completely loses track of his act and everything else prompting one audience member to ask: “Is this your last gig?” For a lesser comic it may have been.

Speaking of lesser comic – the presence of Orny Adams in this documentary is either a convenient study in contrasts or the director lucked into someone who was tempermentally the complete opposite of Seinfeld. Orny Adams is funny – in fact he is very funny – he is also the first person who will tell you that he is funny and that he deserves the fruits of his labor. He is rewarded for his raw talent as a funny man when he has lunch with the legendary George Shapiro at Bice where George agrees to manage the mercurial young comic. Self destructive, delusional, self loathing, brash, over confident and terminally insecure all describe Orny Adams who cannot seem to keep his mouth shut long enough to realize when he is getting sage advice and good career direction. There is no surprise in the fact that Orny Adams is still a working comic – he is genuinely funny. There is equally no surprise that he has not become a bigger star he demonstrates how unprepared he is to be an adult almost ever time he opens his mouth.

The comedy circles Seinfeld moves in is made clear by the serious conversations about comedy he has with the likes of Colin Quinn, George Wallace, Chris Rock, Ray Romano, the great Robert Klein and the master of the stand-up stage himself Bill Cosby. The insanely long hours, driving from club to club, the hustle and the genuine turmoil of every night on stage is tracked in uneven but real detail. Through it all Seinfeld is gregarious, attentive, polite and well mannered even when things are going against him. If this movie does nothing else it will convince you that Jerry Seinfeld is a serious student of comedy and a genuine gentleman. For anyone who loves comedy this is a must see movie.


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