The Comedians of Comedy: The Movie
Starz / Anchor Bay // Unrated // January 30, 2007
Review by Adam Tyner | posted January 24, 2007
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The kinda-sorta-documentary The Comedians of Comedy: The Movie intermingles stand-up performances with candid footage of Patton Oswalt, Brian Posehn, Zach Galifianakis, and Maria Bamford as they trek across the country, touring indie rock clubs instead of trudging their way through the depressing two-drink-minimum comedy club circuit.

Okay, I'm one obscenely long sentence into the review and already I'm interrupting myself. If none of those names ring much of a bell, The Comedians of Comedy: The Movie isn't that spectacular an introduction. All four of 'em have been on Comedy Central Presents; keep an eye out for one of their specials or grab Patton Oswalt's "222", a two-disc set documenting an epic two hour-plus performance from a few years back at the 40 Watt in Athens, GA. I think the movie would play much better if you stroll in with fandom in tow, something that probably explains the indifferent-to-intensely-negative reviews floating around online.

If you've caught the six episode Comedy Central series of the same name, you have a pretty good idea what to expect: the movie's a mix of hastily-improvised staged bits, the four of 'em clowning around in restaurants, Brian and Patton hunting down the best comic book store in whatever town they happen to be in that Wednesday, cracking each other up on the RV, highlights from each performance on the tour... I'm probably supposed to tackle the stand-up first, what with the whole documentary-about-comedians-on-the-road thing and all, but that's really the least interesting aspect of the film.

The best parts are the candid snippets, which almost always follow the comedians talking to each other rather than mugging to the camera or doing some faux-Real World-confessional routine. They're hysterical on-stage, of course -- they're pros! -- but these are naturally funny people who have no trouble landing laughs by just being themselves. If it's a story about a rowdy audience member who butted heads with some cops eager to try out their new tasers, likening comic shops to drug dealers, griping about the dismal state of their acting careers (although, really, Below was sincerely a great flick), or taping a squishy late-night homoerotic fantasy, it's all (mostly) effortlessly funny.

Stand-up performances are gingerly sprinkled throughout and make up somewhere between a third and half of the movie. Sorry, I'm not dedicated enough to actually time it. There's an excerpt from a radio interview where Patton says something to this effect, kinda robbing me of what I thought was something vaguely insightful, but one thing that distinguishes these comedians is how conversational their styles are. My first time seeing Patton Oswalt and Zach Galifianakis live was at the Athens show that opens the movie. Not all that long afterwards, I bought Patton's CD, which was recorded at another show at the 40 Watt a year earlier, and I was startled to hear many of the same bits with such similar wording; the flow is so natural and unforced that when I saw him live, it seemed as if he was just riffing, making it all up as he went along. Deceptive! But in a good way.

If you're familiar with these comedians, you ought to be familiar with this material, and that's one of the downsides of watching a movie based around three year old comedy shows. It's also kind of a drag that there isn't more of Zach Galifianakis; he wasn't on every date of the tour, so he naturally doesn't pop up on-stage as often as Brian Posehn or Patton Oswalt. Maria Bamford's live sets seem underrepresented, or at least, the movie doesn't do as keen a job showing how brilliant she can be in front of a mic. Although fans have heard most of this stuff before, The Comedians of Comedy also tosses in footage of Zach posing as an 18th century comedian along with home movies of Patton and an unrecognizable Brian Posehn at some of their very, very early, cringe-worthy gigs.

I really would've liked to have seen The Comedians of Comedy: The Movie packaged as a double-feature with the Comedy Central TV series that followed. As much as I like the movie, it almost seems like a dry-run for the series, which is a considerable step-up in pretty much every respect. The TV show does a better job introducing these four comics, f'r instance, and I think someone who'd never heard of these comedians could give the show a shot and walk away a fan. The movie, on the other hand, is kinda like someone who could only name two Radiohead songs trying to sit through Meeting People Is Easy. I need to work on my analogies, but what I'm trying to get at is that the movie's more by-fans-for-fans. I preferred the series' approach to the stand-up excerpts too, as it leaned more heavily towards off-the-cuff riffs instead of chunks of their established sets. Even having caught a couple of stops on their tours, seeing these comedians repeatedly on Comedy Central, listening to their CDs, watching and awkwardly reviewing their DVDs, etc., etc., etc., a good bit of the stand-up on the TV show was new to me. The movie's more familiar and doesn't always cherry-pick the best of it besides. I also felt like I got a look at meatier chunk of their personalities from the show and dove a little deeper into their approaches to comedy and performing. There's some of that in the movie too, but it's kinda glossed over.

So, this reads more like a review of The Comedians of Comedy: The Series than The Comedians of Comedy: The Movie, but I don't want to sound like I'm too down on this DVD. It's just that the small-screen incarnation of The Comedians of Comedy is great, and the movie's rougher around the edges and settles for just being pretty good. I watched The Comedians of Comedy: The Movie with a friend of mine who's made the trip to the 40 Watt the past couple of times Patton and company have passed through, and we were howling just about from the first frame to the last. No, it's not as tight or as focused as the TV show, and it's not seasoned with enough Galifianakis for my tastes, but if you're a fan of any of these comedians, it's essential viewing.

The movie spent the better part of last year as a Netflix exclusive, but now it's getting wider distribution courtesy of Anchor Bay. Nearly all of the bells and whistles have been ported over, and Anchor Bay has also tossed a live performance from the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles onto the flipside of the disc for good measure.

Video: The Comedians of Comedy isn't a pretty movie, but the rough, gritty, full-frame DV video translates alright to DVD. Wow, I'm spent after one sentence, and I guess that says it all right there.

Audio: Anchor Bay swapped out the 448Kbps Dolby Digital 5.1 audio from the Netflix DVD in favor of plain-jane stereo. It's not that dramatic a hit since both soundtracks suffer a bit from the quick-'n-dirty nature of the shoot. Sometimes the recording itself just isn't that great, and audio wizardry only goes so far. You can hear pretty much everything you need to, though, and burned-in subs fill in the remaining gaps. Serviceable.

No alternate soundtracks, running subtitles, or closed captions are included.

Supplements: Longer, unedited performances seem like a given for this sort of DVD, and director Michael Blieden and company had to have shot an ungodly amount of footage, so there ought to be a pretty extensive set of deleted scenes., not so much.

A seven minute clip documents Patton and Zach trotting across a few stops on the East coast for a rehearsal tour. Zach frets about bombing. They snuggle up to a guy who's passed out in the hall. 'Salright.

Zach thinks it'd be funny to rant about lazy comedians who use slapstick as a crutch, then have a chair collapse out from under him and tumble down a hill. Simple idea. Maybe eight minutes total to put or two tries to nail down? Nope. Comedy is hard, and the sixteen minute "The Making of the Most Independent Movie Ever Made" is all about the agony...! the suffering...! that Zach endures to bring his vision to the screen.

There are a few deleted scenes that run around ten minutes in total. One of the cameramen discovers the cutest dog ever and nearly gets murdered in the process, and another clip revolves around Brigitte Nielsen's filmography and Brian Posehn talking about growing up around inhumanly tall San Franciscans. The longest and best of this stuff is the full version of Brian and Zach's homoerotic romp, a lot of which is the kind of goofy stuff that seems hysterical at 3 AM but not so much the next day. The fact that it's called "The Mayonnaise Thing" kinda clues you into what the payoff is gonna be, but even though I knew how it was going to end from word one, I swear that I haven't laughed this hard at anything all year.

A "Comedians to Pay Attention To" feature serves up minute and a half-ish clips of Melissa Paull, Jen Kirkman, Howard Kremer, Eddie Pepitone, Morgan Murphy, and Jackie Kashian.

On the flipside of the disc is the also-no-longer-a-Netflix-exclusive Live at the El Rey. The whole thing clocks in around 53 minutes minus credits, and with intros by Bob Odenkirk and Blaine Capatch, that only leaves somewhere in the neighborhood of fifteen minutes a pop for Patton, Brian, and Maria. That's kinda disappointing. Blaine's performance is trimmed down (I guess) to just a couple of minutes of his weaker stuff, and anyone who's seen Brian Posehn live probably has his entire routine here committed to memory by now. On the other hand, I'd never seen Bob Odenkirk do stand-up before, and his few minutes on-stage are alone worth a rental. Maria and Patton also turn in a couple of outstanding sets, with Patton in particular spending most of the set performing material that's not on his CDs and interrupting himself mid-bit to properly modulate a distractingly heavy laugher. Live at the El Rey is decent, but if this is all that was on the Netflix disc, it's better off as a DVD extra than its own separate release.

Conclusion: The Comedians of Comedy: The Series is leaner, sharper, funnier, and more insightful than the feature-length movie, but if you're a fan of any of the comedians on this tour, the DVD's only twelve bucks online. I think the movie would play better as part of a two-disc set with the TV series, but I still enjoyed The Comedians of Comedy: The Movie enough to give it an embolded, italicized Recommended.

Related Reviews: If you're feeling masochistic, I've also tossed together reviews for Patton Oswalt's No Reason to Complain and Zach Galifianakis' Live at the Purple Onion.

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