“You don’t have to be miserable. But there has to be something wrong with you.”
I’d say most people who recognise Kevin Pollock, recognise him as an actor. In the 90s, he had an amazing run. He was in big budget, big prestige movies like Scorsese’s Casino. He was in massive money makers like Grumpy Old Men. And he was in one of the quintessential indie-movie-becomes-blockbuster of the 90s, The Usual Suspects. But before his acting career took off, during his acting career since, and seemingly with no sign of slowing down, he’s always been a stand up comedian. Which is why he seems like as a good a person as any to make a documentary examining what makes comedians tick, with Misery Loves Comedy.
Through a series of talking heads, Pollock takes us through a kind of life cycle of his subjects. Who was the first person they recognised as funny? When was the first time they realised they were funny? When did they start using that skill to their advantage? And eventually, he gets to the title with his final question, do you need to be miserable to be a successful comedian.
The biggest part of what makes this movie work in any way, is Pollock’s access. From legends like Martin Short, Christopher Guest and Tom Hanks. To current theatre filling headliners, like Jim Gaffigan and Jim Jeffries. The LA’s alt comedy all stars like Paul F Tompkins, Jimmy Pardo and Chris Hardwick. To TV and movie big shots like Judd Apatow, Stephen Merchant, Larry David and Jason Reitman. Using a style that could have become repetitive or redundant never goes in that direction, because everyone he puts in front of the camera could read the phone book and make it funny, personable and entertaining.
Apart from his lives as a comedian and actor, Pollock has reinvented himself over the last few years as a podcaster. Kevin Pollock’s Chat Show offers long from interviews where some of the biggest stars in the world seem happy to spill their guts for upwards of two hours. While the existence of the Chat Show pretty much lead directly to Misery Loves comedy being made, it’s also its biggest weakness. Pollock has a tendency for repeating stories and oh-so-clever turns of phrase constantly on the podcast. Which took the wind out of the sails of some of what should have been the most revealing interviews here. But, the vast majority of the world still has no idea what a podcast is, so I’m sure for most people watching this documentary, the info will be totally fresh and new.
According to Pollock, the idea of, ‘do you need to be miserable to be funny?’, was initially supposed to be the basis of the entire movie. Deciding to build to that and have it only appear the final act was a brilliant decision. For starters there’s nothing new in the idea of the sad clown. But more importantly, the final third packs its punch purely because we’ve spent an hour getting to know and like these people and see them be funny. And you need that. Because, as EB White said, “Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it.”