Comedians are sexy now.
For a long time it was Vampires. For a little while back there it was Pirates. But now it looks like Standup Comedians are the shiny new sex toys of the silver screen. Netflix is commissioning comedy specials at an exponential rate – big names and relative unknowns alike…
But perhaps you’ve had your fill of the whole “one man and microphone” thing and you’re craving a bit of screenplay? Perhaps you’re a comedian yourself seeking to further imbibe the comedy culture?
Just as a budding baseball player might spend their free time watching Field of Dreams, A League of Their Own or Angels in The Outfield… aspiring comics would do well to get their comedy chops into any of the shows on this list.
In the same way that Ricky Gervais’ Extras pulls focus on the atypical life of a “background/supporting artist”, there is an increasing number of shows out there holding a magnifier to the daily tribulations of the standup comedian.
Many, like Maron, Louie and Lady Dynamite centre around fictionalized versions of successful real-world comics. By virtue of their autobiographical nature, they can’t help but heavily feature the idiosyncrasies of the industry. Some, like “Dice” and “Real Rob (starring fictionalized versions of Andrew Dice Clay and Rob Schneider, respectively) focus more on the comics’ quirky day-to-day and less on their careers. As such, shows like these are not included below.
Rarer are shows like “I’m Dying Up Here” which provides a broader view of the industry through a series of interconnected stories. Tina Fey’s multi-award winning “30 Rock” charts the middling highs and catastrophic lows of a fictional television production company operating out of Rockafeller Centre. Less about “standup” and more of a satirical sideswipe at the television industry, 30 Rock does not make the list below – but it’s WELL worth your time!
And so, here are 8 GREAT MODERN TV SHOWS ABOUT STAND-UP COMEDY:
#1 — Crashing —
Comedy-drama with emphasis on Comedy. Pete Holmes’ cameo-happy sitcom is an autobiographical offering and focuses heavily on the daily grind of an aspiring standup comic in NYC. With big name drop-ins like Bill Burr, Sarah Silverman, T J Miller and a full 2-season arc involving around Arty Lang, the show brilliantly juxtaposes the heart-break of creative anonymity with a “Pete Holmesy” warmth and candour that keeps you rooting for the little guy.
[Available on NOW TV]
#2 — I’m Dying Up Here —
Comedy-drama with emphasis on Drama. Jim Carey’s glossy 1970s tableaux connects a group of aspiring comics as they vie for that dream spot on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show”. The show weaves its own neo-fairy-tale into real-world comedy history, with Brandon Ford Green guesting in episode 4 as a young Richard Pryor at his creative turning point. A charming series that is a much a character study of the comedian-spectrum as it is a cynical indictment of the “very American dream” of standup stardom. Series 2 is set to premiere May 6th 2018.
[Available on NOW TV]
#3 — Nobodies —
Frenetic, cameo-chocked comedy nonsense. Melissa McCartney’s Nobodies revolves around a group of three unknown actor/comedians attempting to wrangle themselves a TV deal by attaching bigger more successful names to their cause. The show is fresh, self-aware and very funny (like every good comedian ought to be)
#4 — Lady Dynamite —
The do say the best comics create a world of their own and invite the rest of us into it. Maria Bamford’s Lady Dynamite has an almost “schizophrenic mis-en-scène” – a stylistic homage to Maria’s time spent in and out of mental health institutions. Manic jump-cuts and Freudian dreamscapes all belie a seam of satirical disdain for an industry that squandered her talents while her health was suffering.
The show is incredibly meta. In the Pilot episode, guest cameo Patton Oswald actually calls breaks character to advise Maria against featuring a cliché standup motif in her show – citing that “Louie” already does that.
[Available on Netflix]
#5 — Garfunkel and Oates —
Riki Lindhome and Kate Micucci’s real-world folk duo is the eponymous hero of this charming 4th-wall buster of a sitcom. Satirical ukulele-based ditties punctuate this expedition into the personal and professional lives of comedy’s most “indie-quirky-cute-but-slightly-awkward” double acts.
[Available on Netflix]
#6 — Louie —
Its predecessor “Lucky Louie” was a down-the-line sitcom filmed in front of a live studio audience. Luckily, “Louie” broke with all tradition. Hailed as the definitive “sad-com”, the show makes no apologies for its lack of a series arc or even for its mid-season character recasts. “Each episode has its own goal” says Louis CK “and if it messes up the goal of another episode […] I just don’t care”. By ignoring convention, Louie has heralded a creative liberation in the field.
Admittedly it might be little tougher to get your hands on this now. But it’s worth the dig and the knee-jerk scorn of your absolutist chums to search it out. Louis CK is one of the planet’s greatest living comedians.
#7 — Maron —
Maron makes it onto this list by virtue of the “WTF Podcast” (comedian Marc Maron’s successful real-world podcast available on all good platforms). Podcasting is the natural progression of standup and a huge number of big name comics host their own twice-weekly shows to connect with online audiences. Maron, the TV show, stars a fictionalized Marc struggling with all the technocracy and social media pitfalls that any budding comic nowadays has to contend with. As such, it’s well worth a watch for comedians and fans of dry socio-conscientious humour, alike.
[Available on Netflix]
#8 — Difficult People —
Amy Poehler’s cameo-tastic buddy-com follows suit with everything above – fuelled by its own charming irreverence and brutal Kevin Spacey put downs (waaaaay before everything came out… “just like Kevin Spacey”).
If you prefer your binges feature-length, I can heartily recommend “Don’t Think Twice” – Mike Birbiglia’s all-star flick about an NYC improv troop vying for a spot on a fictionalized version of SNL. “A Futile and Stupid Gesture” chronicles the rise and fall of The National Lampoon and finally Jim Carey’s 1999 masterpiece “Man On the Moon” (the Andy Kaufman biopic) will redefine everything you know about… everything.
Here are TEN MORE feature-length dramas from yesteryear about standup comedy’s turbulent lineage – http://www.ifc.com/2013/04/10-dramas-about-comedy
I LOVE comedy – MAKING it, WATCHING it and WRITING about it. Keep up-to-date with my personal joke-holstery @Talldarkfriend across Twitter, Facebook, Youtube and Insta | article by #JordanGray
Jordan Gray’s debut Edinburgh Fringe show JORDAN GRAY: PEOPLE CHANGE is showing at The Caves, Niddry St (Edinburgh) Aug 2nd to Aug 26th 2018!