Kevin Pollak’s broad survey of stand-up, “Misery Loves Comedy,” opens with the provocative question often raised after Robin Williams’ suicide last year: What is it about comedy that attracts so many deeply unhappy people?
Maybe Pollak thought that premise was too grim because his documentary spends most of its running time avoiding the topic. Instead, we hear from Pollak’s friends — 56 of them (the guy’s connected) — talk about comedic influences, what it’s like to bomb onstage and their adolescent nerdiness. Because the participants include the likes of Larry David, Christopher Guest and Amy Schumer, we hear plenty of engaging anecdotes, though, taken together, they don’t do much to illuminate a subject that has been thoroughly explored elsewhere, including in books such as Mike Sacks’ interview collections, “Poking a Dead Frog” and “And Here’s the Kicker.”
Pollak obviously cast a wide net, too many people said yes and he just couldn’t say no. The overabundance of talking heads, taken with a disinterest in a visual presentation, gives the movie a repetitive feel that’s not helped by the demographics of his subjects. Of the 56 participants, seven are women, one is black (Whoopi Goldberg, here only to talk about Richard Pryor) and one is Latino (Freddie Prinze Jr., on hand to talk about his late father).
That kind of representation, intentional or not, limits the movie’s perspective. Chris Rock, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer are all probably miserable too. Were they too sad to pick up the phone?
“Misery Loves Comedy”
No MPAA rating.
Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.
Playing: Sundance Sunset, Los Angeles. Also on VOD.