29 July 2006 | geoffparfitt
The Rise and Fall of Boston Comedy
This is a movie/documentary whose publicity promises more than it delivers. All the same - as a student of stand-up comedy and its history - the DVD will be a welcome part of my collection and is one that I will repeatedly watch with interest.
The story told is the rise and fall of the comedy club scene in Boston USA, from 1978 with the opening of little clubs, to their closure in 1988 when the whole thing collapsed - in parallel with the standard of live comedy in the USA - brought about by the sudden saturation of bland boring stand-up on cable TV.
The culprits were the actors with slick presentation that started to take the place of performers with a true comic sensibility. This is something that is not clearly exposed or explained in the movie, but it is an issue that to a lesser extent is still with us, and has also resulted in a fall in the standard of live comedy in the UK.
BUT... Back to the movie! Along with the director Fran Solomita who also appears in the movie, the key players in this story are Barry Crimmins and Lenny Clarke - the main MCs from that period in those Boston clubs. Both of these guys remind me of characters from the UK comedy scene that I have known and seen. Barry is like the late Malcolm Hardee - always in relaxed control both on and off-stage by the sheer weight of his personality. Lenny is a wild man on stage reminiscent of Alexie Sayle in the early days of the London Comedy Store in precisely the same era.
I'd never heard of these two comedians before this movie, but there are a few big name comedians on board to help to tell this story, although I am not convinced of how big a part they really played in it. Dennis Leary and Jimmy Tingle have much to say in interviews, but we see less than a minute each of them on stage, and we never see them talking in company with the real players in the story.
There is more of Bobcat Goldthwait, both on and off-stage. I've never been a fan, and I'm afraid these fresh clips didn't convert me. Oh... and we see Kevin Meaney doing his "man in the street" routine - taking a mic and camera into the street, bus, restaurant, ladies toilet, etc... He's certainly daring, but there's not much wit on show.
The biggest star name comedian involved is Steven Wright, and at the heart of this movie is the story of how he went from nowhere to making his name on the couch of the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. This, and the later dramatic rise of Bobcat to the Letterman Show were the events that revealed the rivalry and ambition that goes alongside the close working and personal relationship between comedians.
This leads to some of the most interesting and serious interview contributions in the movie. Unfortunately much of the interview material does not have the same substance, and makes you look forward to the next clip of stage work. Unfortunately again, many of these clips are of the journeyman comedians of the time who demonstrate why they have remained so anonymous. The occasional clips of open mic oddballs are far more memorable.
One part of this movie appears misplaced. The interviews with Paula Poundstone and Janeane Garafalo seem to be in the package simply to prevent this being an all-male movie. They clearly weren't of the same generation as the key players of this story and are not closely involved with the story being told.
The movie concludes with the present day reunion concert, and it is interesting to see how the key players have weathered over 25 years, including their stage presence. It makes for a fitting end to the story.