This review was written by Rachel Jensen for Big Shiny Robot you can find her on Twitter @supermochella
I AM ROAD COMIC (2 out of 10) Directed By Jordan Brady; Not Rated; Running Time 68 Minutes; Streaming on Netflix May 1, 2016.
There was some hype and word of mouth buzz in the announcement that Jordan Brady's follow up to his 2010 documentary “I am Comic” was going to be streaming on Netflix. However, I found it a little disconcerting that once it hit, despite my algorithmic love for stand-up comedy and documentaries, it was only being recommended as the preemptive 1 star in whether or not I'd like it. Ha! Joke's on you, Netflix, I liked it two whole stars, but even that was a little bit of a stretch.
This is the most unfunny documentary you will ever see on the magnificent art of stand-up comedy.
Basically, this is the most unfunny documentary you will ever see on the magnificent art of stand-up comedy. You would probably be wise to only watch this if you are deeply interested in comedy and its inner-workings, or if you're just really jaded about life in general and need to find a mind-numbing way to kill just a little over an hour. Don't have an egg timer or stop watch, and need to cook something for just over that one-hour mark? You can turn this on instead, and at least you have something to look at other than an egg timer. The reality of comedy is actually pretty brutal and unfunny, and deep down we all as comedy consumers probably recognize that. We just don't need to see our favorite comedians go off script and talk about how unglamorous it is to be a traveling act.
The interesting moments are cobbled together in a way that probably doesn't do the film much justice. You'll learn that comedy is written, will honed, and practiced meticulously rather than made up on the go. Comedians like TJ Miller, Maria Bamford, and Pete Holmes are charming and interesting, if only in a kind of awkward way. They have some funny tidbits to add and say, but this is proof that nearly every comedian out there isn't always “on”. The subject matter discussed by a wide variety of established and up-and-coming comedians does hit home in a really honest way.
Once you strip away the 'illusion' that comedy is not nearly as glamorous as other forms of mild-celebrity, life advice and thought provoking subjects are discussed. The downfall is, with the exception of one or two very eloquent moments, they are almost all only touched on, and then quickly abandoned. The participants talk about the pain of dating, or likewise the crippling loneliness of being in a new town or in a new dive bar or club every weekend. They are all completely broke, penny-pinching, and attempting to balance some sort of normal life. Many of these comedians were fresh on the scene in the big 90s resurgence of the entertainment form; so it's almost even more depressing to see your stand-up idols still pounding the road where they are stealing free breakfast from hotels they aren't even checked into just to save a buck. No wonder self-destruction and drug use seem to be prevalent, and often deadly in their narratives.
No wonder self-destruction and drug use seem to be prevalent, and often deadly in their narratives.
The whole documentary follows around the filmmaker, Brady, and his buddy Wayne Federman as they go on the road for a weekend gig at a little dive bar. The back drop is this bar, Jack Didley's and the fact that it is under fire for their bouncers nearly killing a guy prior to the comedy show. Clips and sound bytes are heard from the news reports, candle light vigils, and friends hoping he'll come out of his coma. And that IS IT. Nothing but a short blurb at the end as a slight aside- spoiler alert: He's still alive. I think the aim was to contrast the brutality of the nightlife world, with the silliness of comedy. It literally just made me paranoid to ever piss of a bouncer, or go to this particular bar in Eugene, Oregon. The inter-cuts simply seem like a way to fill up dead time.
The comedians are fun to see talk candidly, including Jen Kirkman, Nikki Glaser (before her Comedy Central stint), Doug Benson, and Marc Maron. Maron tells a really heart-wrenching story in one of the only memorable parts, where he recounts a comedian he went on the road with before his untimely death due to drug use. Then again, Marc Maron is used to this kind of storytelling, so he can make it more interesting when it's unscripted and in the moment.
All in all, there's a really good reason that this narrow of a subject has never been turned into a feature length documentary before: It's depressing as all hell. Watching people desperately try to survive a road gig takes some of the 'oomph' out of the fact that these talented people are doing what they can to live their dream and follow their passions. They earn so little for these gigs, and the schedule is more demanding than one would think. You can hear the loneliness and sacrifice in their stories, just for those moments where the jokes really land on stage. Not only does it take all of the glamor out of life on the road, it takes almost all of the funny out of the comedians as well. Watch if you want to be distracted from much more depressing things, like ISIS, but don't expect an hour of side splitting inside entertainment. Comedy is brutal, sometimes I just want to watch cat videos on YouTube instead.