The film Comedian is exhausting, in part in a good way and in part not so much. The “good” exhausting comes from watching Jerry Seinfeld try to develop a new stand-up act after retiring all of his previous material. The viewer gains a newfound respect for the process of writing a stand-up bit, especially enough to withstand the demands of a hungry audience for over an hour. Seinfeld is remarkably honest here, even including a painfully lengthy clip of him biffing a joke at a comedy club. He doesn’t simply pick up and move to the next thing. He wallows in his failure, on display for the crowd to see, as they try to chuckle mercifully with (and hopefully not at) the man they’d all grown to love from one of TV’s most successful sitcoms. Seinfeld mentions a number of times how much it feels like he’s starting over, back in his twenties and trying to get some gigs to test fresh jokes.
As for the arduously exhausting part of Comedian, that comes from being forced to watch – to listen to, mostly – Orny Adams, a young comedian trying desperately to put himself on the map. His insecurities are so glowing, his self-confidence so contrived, and his jokes so intense that it really just feels like we’re watching an early career train wreck. Seinfeld, on the other hand, consults with the likes of Colin Quinn, Chris Rock, Jay Leno, and Bill Cosby. They all talk about the challenges of stand-up in a borderline pretentious manner, but on the other hand, you do have to appreciate the difficulty of such a career. Those who are great deserve all the credit they’ve got coming; what’s odd is seeing these greats complain about how hard it is. As a film, this doc probably could’ve done without the Orny Adams bit, but perhaps it offers a perspective of a comedian about to break into the big time stand-up world as opposed to a stand-up rock star testing new bait in new waters. Turns out stand-up is, like anything else, both an art and a science. Having the gift isn’t enough, and having just the technique isn’t, either. On his sitcom, Jerry Seinfeld gained a reputation of being hard working. If this doc does nothing else, it certainly displays a devoted man working hard to hit “refresh” on his career.