Watching Kevin Pollak’s documentary Misery Loves Comedy was revelatory for me. I know very little about stand-up, but so many of the familiar faces from various movies and television series have roots in that terrifying performative space.
This film, which runs about an hour and a half, includes interviews with over 60 funny people, some more famous than others, and virtually all of them have something interesting to say about humor and about life.
Normally, a film built almost exclusively around talking head interviews juxtaposed one against another would be tedious, but that is no so for Misery Loves Comedy.
While I might have liked the integration of more archival photographs (and some video clips, though not at the expense of a longer runtime), the simple structure is fitting in other ways because of its similarity to the medium it (mainly) addresses, stand-up, with one person alone on a stage trying to engage the audience.
Pollak has over 40-years in stand-up and is a familiar face from television and movies, too. Although he does not appear in film except for the occasional question or verbal exchange, the film is infused with his experience and sensibility.
On the title of the film, Pollak says, “It’s not that comedy breeds misery, it’s that naturally funny people find writing or performing comedy to be the best possible outlet to release their misery, anger and/or depression. The result, thankfully, is one of the historically effective medicines for them AND the audience.”
He says that the thesis of the film may be “Do you have to be miserable to be funny?”
While the film doesn’t deliver a definitive answer, the series of related questions offered onscreen do provide a useful framing device.
“When I set out to cut 70 hours of interviews into a 90 minute film, I needed to create a narrative,” Pollak says. “As luck would have it, I instantly discovered that even when comedians talk about their pain and misery, they can’t help but be deeply funny.”
Though Robin Williams is not a focus of the film, his presence is palpable in an unspoken way through parts of it, so that it comes as no surprise just before the final credits to see that this documentary is dedicated to him. Fitting.
Misery Loves Comedy is a must-see for comedy fans, a satisfying film for documentary fans, and a good way to spend an hour and a half for anyone who is intellectually curious.