AFI Fest Review: The Comedian is a love letter to the NYC comedy scene.
The Comedian tells the story of sitcom star Jackie Burke (Robert De Niro) who is desperately trying to stay relevant in the comedy world. Each night, Jackie performs at comedy shows in clubs all across New York. The crowds show up in small doses but not to see Jackie’s act but rather his sitcom character Eddie. One evening while performing at the Comedy Cellar, Jackie begins to get heckled by a man in the crowd. As Jackie tries to play along, the man continues to push back saying that Jackie should do what the audience wants and not what he wants. This disagreement turns into a heated debate that leads to a fight, all of which is caught on camera.
Jackie is sentenced to 30 days in prison and 100 hours of community service. When released from prison, Jackie learns that the heckler’s video went viral and his agent (Edie Falco) attempts to get him bigger gigs. Jackie meets Harmony (Leslie Mann) at the soup kitchen, and the two hit it off. Will Jackie’s newfound relationship be the inspiration he needs to give his career the much-needed boost it deserves? Seeing The Comedian
Seeing The Comedian reminded me why I love comedy. The film isn’t the typical modern comedy loaded with infantile humor and gross-out gags. Instead, it is a character driven story with real and well-developed characters with some raunchy dialogue mixed in. I am friends with several comedians back in NYC, so I am somewhat aware of the comedy scene. It isn’t always easy performing to drunks and random people. The comedy world in the film is filled with a lot of unique and interesting personalities that accurately represent the comedy scene in real life. This film captures all these things flawlessly.
At the film’s premiere, Robert De Niro spoke about how this film has been eight years in the making. He said that several directors came and left the project. It’s amazing that a film like The Comedian takes so long to come to life yet garbage like Dirty Grandpa gets made by a major studio with the same star and isn’t second guessed. This is a great performance by De Niro simply because there are multiple layers to the character of Jackie and you can see De Niro’s passion in his performance.
While the storyline of Jackie becoming a viral video star is a subject that isn’t new nowadays, if the film was made six or seven years ago like planned, it would have been one of the first to tackle the subject matter. Regardless of whether or not the idea is super fresh, it is still relevant to our world today. In fact, I think how Jackie handles the whole reality show host gig is how most people feel about reality stars and shows. He finds it belittling which is why when he tells the hipsters at Raw TV to go fuck themselves, it results in a great movie moment.
Alongside De Niro is a great supporting cast consisting of Leslie Mann, Harry Keitel, Edie Falco, Danny DeVito and Patty LuPone. These are all great actors who have been working in the industry for decades. They bring their A game to the project and deliver a mixture of heart and laughs. I think it is pretty easy to say that Leslie Mann has never been better than she is here. Her character, Harmony is well rounded, and Mann’s performance captures the character’s complicated nature of a woman who has lost her way. From her issues with her father to struggling to be in a successful relationship, Mann’s performance is likable and honest.
The comedy in The Comedian doesn’t always hit but does most of the time. There are easily at least seven to eight scenes in particular that made me burst out laughing. It is great to see a comedy that is actually funny because it is reliant on dialogue rather than visual gags. The stand-up scenes where Jackie does his bit felt very natural and just like real comedians. Some of the bits were stronger and funnier than others. The wedding scene, in particular, was one of the film’s funniest moments. The jokes hit hard, and the reaction shots from everyone in attendance was priceless.
The film did go in some directions that I didn’t see coming. While I knew that certain things would happen, I didn’t expect the third act to go where it went. I respect that the story went the standard Hollywood route but also managed not over to do it. The very last scene in the film which I can’t reveal because it is a huge spoiler was hilarious. I didn’t think the film could end on such a high note, but it definitely did.
The Comedian, while not flawless, is one of the best comedies of the past several years. It has great characters paired with a great cast that delivers fine performances. The Comedian captures the comedy world of NYC as well as the city itself. It is a refreshing film that will make you laugh but will also make you feel something. I am so glad that Robert De Niro kept pushing for this film to be made because it was a great and memorable role in his very long and very diverse career as an actor.
Scott “Movie Man” Menzel gives The Comedian 8/10