The Bye Bye Man
The Bye Bye Man is the kind of film that is so boring and bereft of anything of possible interest that it becomes infuriating.
It's hard to tell if Kevin Pollak's documentary "Misery Loves Comedy" is too much of a good thing or not enough.
In the abstract, it would seem to have everything it needs to be a totally satisfying nonfiction feature about the history and craft of standup comedy and the personality types that tend to be drawn to it. And it couldn't ask for a more outwardly suitable director. Pollak is a brilliant standup comic himself, and a killer impressionist, and a fine actor who's spent lots of time on film sets absorbing the craft of movie storytelling.
He's also very much an insider in the tightly knit world of standup, somebody who's probably logged thousands of hours standing in spotlights in front of brick walls, which means there's no working comedian of any age with a brain in his or her head who wouldn't be willing to follow him as he leads them into more personal terrain than they're maybe used to visiting in interviews. Judging solely from the lineup of talking heads assembled here—a murderer's row that includes Larry David, Whoopi Goldberg, Amy Schumer, Jimmy Fallon, Martin Short, Christopher Guest, Janeane Garofalo, Kumail Nanjiani, Jason Alexander and forty other boldfaced names—he's a man who commands an extraordinary degree of trust, and this is confirmed when you hear the subjects open up to his skillful questions.
Freddie Prinze, Jr., for one, talks about how he was more or less ordered into standup comedy by his grandfather after his troubled dad, star of TV's "Chico and the Man," committed suicide, in order to "fix what your father fucked up." Nearly every other comedian who's included in the "origins" portion of the documentary shares some version of a tragic, or at least uncomfortable, backstory, as well as a feeling of emptiness that could only be filled by hearing the laughter of strangers. Comedy as catharsis and a means of public sharing also gets a segment; the emotional peak is Maria Bamford talking about the first time she used her stint in a mental hospital as fuel for a routine, and heard audience members shouting out their own traumas in response. We also hear secondhand stories about Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Sam Kinison and other standup legends whose demons fueled their art and set fire to the personal lives.
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