Here’s the thing about comedians — they take the business of being funny, very very seriously. One of the most competitive and unforgiving avenues in the entertainment biz, it’s never about how funny you were, it’s always about how funny you’re going to be. Once the punchlines vanishes, the audience waits for the next round and in a way, telling jokes is like asking a sculptor to continually create new work that not only builds on the previous one, but adds to it. Almost by nature, comedians are insecure, forever polishing, refining, writing and changing their act in the pursuit of perfection. But it’s that unquenchable desire for the ultimate laugh, that makes the great comedians stand out. With so much more than meets the eye to the world of stand-up comedy, the idea of sitting down four of the biggest names right now for a chat about their jobs seems like a no brainer but unfortunately, the all-too-brief “Talking Funny” only skims the surface.
The HBO special gathers Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, Ricky Gervais and Louis C.K. and gets the four congenial guys talking about everything from the driving force behind their comedy to the finer points of what makes a joke work. And while these four guys are hilarious, for the most part, “Talking Funny” feels rather clinical. There isn’t much in the way of debate, but more a casual conversation, and the overreaching message delivered here is that the great comedians continually hone their craft. Each of the comedians are constantly writing fresh material, though some more than others — as Louis C.K. says he refreshes his entire act every year, while Seinfeld maybe tosses around 20% each tour. Each of them agree it was never about the money, and they simply strove to be that guy who could make a room laugh and gain the respect of others who could do the same.
But watching a bunch of guys agree with each other isn’t that exciting, and it’s really when they have differing views or approaches that “Talking Funny” gets interesting but unfortunately the tightly edited and rather brief show (which runs under an hour) doesn’t give any time for the participants to get into a spirited dialogue (or it has been cut out to fit a programming slot). At one point, everyone points out that among the four of them, it’s only Seinfeld that performs “clean” with no swearing and while the comedian acknowledges he took the cussing out years ago because he felt it was a crutch, you wish they all had spoken more about how a well placed “fuck” or “shit” (or its removal) can change the shape, tone and tenor of a gag. And with four very distinct styles of comedians chatting, there is very little talk about the actual process and how they each shape their routines — something that you would think would have been an obvious topic of discussion.
Ricky Gervais recently posted on his blog that if all goes well, there will be more installments of “Talking Funny” and considering how cheap this probably is to produce — get four guys in a room and turn on a few cameras — we’d be surprised if there weren’t more. But for anyone looking for a rollicking good time with these famed comedians or for an in depth discussion on the ins and outs of making people laugh are likely to be disappointed on both fronts. Neither as deep or delightful as it wants to be, “Talking Funny” shows us four guys having a great time hanging out with each other and makes us wish we were having as much fun watching it as they did making it. [C]