Published Feb 20, 2015Stand-up comedians get up on stage and make it all look so effortless, yet as Tom McCaffrey's new mock/documentary hybrid points out, the road to stardom is incredibly difficult and perilous.
McCaffrey is a prolific comedian, writer, director and performer based in New York City. Over the last two decades, his work has appeared in high profile outlets like Comedy Central, VH1, Funny or Die and The Onion, but he's still obscure. While some comedians like Louis C.K. or Sarah Silverman have attained rock star levels of fame, Adventures in Comedy highlights the fact that very few stand-ups end up living comfortable lives. In fact, many of them are tortured people who are constantly taking one step forward and three steps back.
His approach in this film is to balance earnest interview segments with the likes of Jim Gaffigan, Janeane Garofolo, Aisha Tyler and Michael Che with staged representations of awkward encounters he's had with people involved in comedy over the years. To hear Gaffigan talk about the innate drive that compels comedians to do stand-up no matter what lucrative sitcom or talk show they're best known for, or Garofolo tell honest, somewhat heartbreaking stories about the rise and fall of her career in Hollywood, is compelling and insightful.
The mockumentary aspect of the film is a bit more uneven. The central premise is that McCaffrey, playing an incredulous, hard-done-by version of himself, is preparing to record a stand-up special, but is jerked around by a big-talking, do-nothing manager and forced to endure strange conversations with comedy nerds and wannabes. He's already in the dumps, so all of these odd, fruitless interactions truly sour him.
The mocked-up vignettes are a nice way of enlivening an otherwise straight doc, but the bits don't always land so well. Still, Adventures in Comedy sheds a lot of light on the process of stand-up, just as the artform feels more pervasive than ever.
Listen to an interview with Tom McCaffrey on the Kreative Kontrol with Vish Khanna here.