Comedy is not going to save you

Too many comedians have tried... and failed

About midway through the trailer for the upcoming documentary It’s Not That Funny, Upright Citizens Brigade alum and former talk show host Chris Gethard utters the title of this newsletter entry. “Comedy is not going to save you,” he says as footage from his early days at the UCB plays. “And if you are thinking about doing comedy as a substitute for therapy, it doesn’t work. I tried. I tried for a long time.”

Modern popular culture has long held that genius, in most of its forms, is often accompanied by mental instability. The stories we repeatedly tell ourselves about this notion regularly reinforce it. Hell, even the movies we make about these individuals do just about everything they can to make sure the audience knows. “Yeah, this person was really smart and good at what they did, but they suffered greatly and, at some points, even went a little crazy.” It all makes for a great bit of mythologizing, obviously, but it’s also mostly bullshit. Crazy does not a smart person make, nor vice versa.

There are many, many problems with this longstanding notion, but one of the most severe is the literal toll it takes on the people who are saddled with it as a label. That, or the people who are constantly trying to live up to the expectations these myths seemingly demand of them. “If you want to be as funny as Robin Williams, then you have to work, play and die as hard as Robin Williams.” Again, this is false.

That’s why, as both a comedy critic and a comedy fan, I am excited to see SoulPancake and Funny Or Die’s new documentary It’s Not That Funny. The trailer, which dropped on Tuesday, features a who’s who of working comics who, like Gethard, strive to undo the idea that to be good and making people laugh can justify the mental anguish. That, as well as the assumption that humor, whether one practices it or enjoys it, can be a perfectly viable alternative to seeking actual, bona fide help.

Here’s the film’s official blurb:

Sometimes the business of making people laugh is no laughing matter. With more reported instances of substance abuse, depression, loneliness, and suicide, the line between comedy and tragedy is getting thinner and the need for open conversation about mental health is more important than ever before. Developed in partnership with Funny Or Die, It’s Not That Funny, is a documentary that brings comedians together for an honest look and real conversations about comedy + mental health. When the cost of bringing others joy is your own joy, the cost is too high.

Aside from Gethard, the trailer previews the documentary’s interview with Sarah Silverman, Baron Vaughn, Wayne Brady, Sara Benincasa, Aparna Nancherla, Anna Akana and Rainn Wilson. The film also features sit-downs with Neal Brennan, Rachel Bloom, Rikki Lindholm and more. No word on an official release date yet, but It’s Not That Funny is coming soon.

Thankfully, despite the dire need for more people (and especially comedians themselves) to be able and willing to acknowledge and talk about matters of mental health, SoulPancake and Funny Or Die’s efforts here aren’t entirely novel. Last year, Los Angeles’ iconic Comedy Store venue started the Comedians Assistance Fund in order to offer working comics help with financial and health-related matters. Others, like Steven Alan Green’s The Laughter Foundation, which operates the Heckler Fund, have also been fighting the good fight for mental health awareness and treatment.

Random Bits

Off and on since 2008, Funny or Die’s Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis has simultaneously delighted and confused viewers who just so happened to find it. The oddball anti-talk show has bagged plenty of big guests, like Brad Pitt, Jerry Seinfeld, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and now it’s getting a movie — yes, movie — on Netflix. This is something I’ll be talking about in a future newsletter, but until then, I’m writing about Between Two Ferns here to introduce Funny Or Die’s replacement.

On Tuesday, the digital comedy outlet released the first episode of Under A Rock with Tig Notaro, yet another anti-talk show of sorts. Instead of emphasizing the theatrics of Galifianakis’ comedy stylings, however, Under A Rock displays Notaro’s apparent total lack of pop cultural knowledge. Per Funny Or Die:

Although she’s a famous comedian herself, Tig Notaro has a very special and unique ability: she doesn’t recognize celebrities. Whether they’re a Grammy Award-winning musician, a world-famous chef, or one of the most iconic actors in television, for Tig... well... it’s just not ringing a bell.

Dawson’s Creek star James Van Der Beek stars in the first episode above, and yeah, it’s exactly what Funny Or Die says it is. Notaro evidently has no idea who the former teen heartthrob is, and the results are actually pretty damn funny. Even Van Der Beek can’t help bursting out into laughter as the bit continues for the entirety of the episode’s seven minutes.

Crowd Work

Don’t forget, I actually want you to respond. Send me whatever questions, comments are snide remarks that you may have about my thoughts on stand-up comedy, or comedy-related matters I didn’t cover, but are nonetheless on your mind. To get in touch, simply email me and we’ll go from there.