Orny gets a few big breaks. One is getting invited to a major showcase in Montreal, the other is getting signed on with the legendary George Shapiro. Don’t know who George Shapiro is? Well, if its funny, and it came out of New York, chances are you’re familiar with his clients. Danny DeVito played Shapiro in the movie Man on the Moon. Shapiro was Andy Kaufman’s agent, Carl Reiner’s agent … and Jerry Seinfeld’s agent. Adams is also very difficult to really develop a rooting interest for. He comes across as arrogant, a little too eager, and maybe not in the business for the right reasons. One of the better moments of the movie is a conversation between Adams and Seinfeld, discussing how Adams feels a sense of urgency to succeed because he sees his friends doing well, starting families, driving nice cars, etc. Seinfeld pretty much deflects this with a little Socratic method: “What else is it that you’d rather be doing? Why does it matter what your friends are doing?” and so on. He then regales Adams with an antecdote of the Glen Miller Orchestra making their way to a concert via plance. They can’t get to the airport due to the snow, so they land in a field, and literally march their way to the hall a few miles away. Along the way, they come across a home, peek in the windows and see a nice family sitting down to a huge meal, with the entire family in the cozy comfort that contrasts to their own muddied uniforms that they are having to wear as they march. One band member looks to the other and asks: How can they live like that? The message imparted to all is that to desire a life as a comedian requires a somewhat misplaced sense of priorities. All in all, Adams seems to take it all in, but very begrudgingly.
The moment when Adams comes across as a little out of tune, to me, is when he gets what seems to be a lecture by a fellow comic in the presence of his agent, George Shapiro. Its not a berating lecture, but the kind of speech you might get from an experienced veteran who knows the ropes, sees what you’ve got and runs down a few things that need to be addressed in order to move up the ladder. Its not really scathing, and given the images the audience gets to see, it comes across as pretty accurate. Shapiro even consoles Adams by saying there’s nothing he wouldn’t argue with in that assessment. Still, not only is Adams a little put off by what he takes as an insult, he has the audacity to question the value of Steven Wright as a comedian. The immediate retort by his protagonist is that “he’s a legend.” Adams keeps asking “And where is Steven Wright today?” To this old-timer who recalls Stephen Wright’s early work, this smacks of heresy that Adams cannot appreciate the history of his craft enough to know who Steven Wright is.
As if to contrast with this lack of appreciation, one of the highlights of the film is a short meeting of the giants of comedy: Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Cosby. All in all, it seems as if Seinfeld is trying to capture what Cosby himself has achieved. Cosby has basically mastered the artform of keeping his material fresh and keeps a standard routine of performances to develop his work. Jerry flies to Newark to see a Cosby show and is stunned that he works two shows a night, both over 2 hours, uninterrupted. It seems a lot for even Seinfeld to take in, having earlier expressed that to him, comedy is not a 20 minute routine, that its an hour-fifteen. One needs to establish the crowd, build continuity and work your way to a climax to end the show. Upon meeting with Chris Rock and hearing more about Cosby’s work, Seinfeld seems as if he’s finally found something to challenge him.
The ultimate contrast in the movie is in how they depict the two performers’ appearance on The Late Show. Adams’ appearance is first, and being single, is the only one in his dressing room. The film depicts the loneliness of the scene and for his performance, shoots the TV in the dressing room from a distance to depict how relatively minor the event it. By contrast, Seinfeld’s performance is shown full screen, his wife and kid are in tow, as well as an assistant. Its a fuller entourage and you get a different set of pressures that Seinfeld is processing. This is the tipoff that the movie is not some sort of low budget Blair Witch for Comedians. There’s a lot going on in the way the film shoots sequences, plays off the experience of Seinfeld vs Adams, and how it gets its message out. In that regard, the film is most impressive.
The fact that a film … any film … can impart any successful message while showing Colin Quinn for as long as they do in this movie amazes me. He just hits me as annoying. Yet, much of the better conversation in the movie is between Seinfeld and Quinn. If you’re at all interested in what goes on behind the scenes in becoming a comedian, this movie is must seeing. I went in just as a fan of the comedic arts, not knowing what I would take from it, and enjoyed it immensely. Its odd to enjoy a movie as much as I enjoyed this, all the while knowing that not everyone is going to really appreciate it for what it is. Don’t go if you just think you’re going to see a lot of Jerry Seinfeld funny moments. The laughs are actually few and far between. But there’s no shortage of things to love about this unfunny movie about comedians.