Published Apr 27, 2015Even the most talented performers would be lying if they didn't concede that there was at least some element of serendipity in their success. Show business is hardly a meritocracy, so timing and sheer luck are crucial. But what happens when that big break never comes? In the case of the three comedians featured in the documentary 3 Still Standing, there's no other option but to keep ploughing ahead and hope for the best.
Within the booming San Francisco comedy scene in the '80s, there were many comics that filled rooms with laughter alongside the most famous of them all, Robin Williams. Will Durst, for instance, capitalized on the publicity from breaking the Guinness record for continuously telling jokes and was finally able to quit his day job. Johnny Steele performed a set in front of the right person and was soon opening for Dennis Miller. Larry "Bubbles" Brown earned a reputation for elevating self-deprecation to new heights.
Working out their material at the local comedy club Holy City Zoo, which boasted a legal capacity of just 47, it was a golden age to be in the business of making people laugh. But when the advent of cable television led to more and more people staying home for their nightly entertainment, it became just another lesson in how nothing can ever last forever. This is why we now find Steele teaching comedy to newcomers and haphazardly planning a one-man show, while Brown dreams of a life where he can continue to open for Dana Carvey on the SNL alum's tours.
Watching old clips of the trio's vastly different on-stage styles, it's easy to see why they were all on the cusp of stardom before the scene imploded. But as funny as they clearly all are, it's their indefatigable ambition 20 years after their biggest brushes with fame that leaves the biggest impression. Brown spends his days in his preferred office of a parking lot, writing jokes to hone his act. Durst pens books and columns for different publications, but still hustles to fill out his performance calendar. Steele is experimenting with the format by alerting his fans to new "pop-up" style shows via social media.
There are many comedians familiar with the time and place to help set the scene, including Carvey, Paula Poundstone, Bobby Slayton and Rob Schneider. As funny and informative as they are here though, the most valuable interview might be with Robin Williams. Perhaps it's just the thrill of seeing him again posthumously, but it's also important to hear from someone who did emerge as a household name. He seems to revel in the chance to relive the fond memories he has of San Francisco and speak kindly of his peers from those halcyon days.