film review: Comedian ***

Jerry Seinfeld sits next to Jay Leno on The Tonight Show, promoting Comedian, a new documentary about him. Seinfeld tells Leno that they are about to witness a historical moment in television history. In a few minutes, he tells the host, two people sitting next to each other talking will introduce a clip from Comedian. The clip features the same two people sitting next to each other talking.

Sure enough the part of the movie they show is of Seinfeld and Leno chatting away in a little room. Leno claims to not even know about the camera, which is doubtful since he looks right at it while talking. Still, this is what the movie’s about. People sitting in little rooms talking.

The documentary follows Seinfeld’s attempts to create a new stand-up act from scratch after retiring his famous “Who are these people?” schtick. As a parallel to Seinfeld, it also shows up-and-coming comedian Orny Adams, who jumped around comedy clubs in New York before signing his first development deal. If the point of this movie was to show the plight of the stand-up comic, it succeeded brilliantly. Adams takes us through a tour of his apartment, where he has drawers and cabinets full of jokes and screenplays and one-liners. Seinfeld devotes most of his time to testing out his new material at the same clubs which usually feature newcomers like Adams.

The difference between the two men seems slight at this point, except Seinfeld has hundreds of millions in the bank and Adams is struggling to live without a development deal. It’s actually sad at times to watch Seinfeld and other established comedians like Leno, Colin Quinn, Chris Rock and Bill Cosby, and their addiction to entertaining. Seinfeld has a massive fortune and a newborn daughter. Leno tapes The Tonight Show nightly. Cosby is in his mid sixties. Yet all of these comedians still travel the country, leaving behind their families, because of their desire to entertain. They complain how hard it is, and get mad at the audiences when they aren’t responsive. Still, they can’t give it up.

To most people, stand-up comedy looks like a pretty attractive job. Sure, it seems nerve-wracking, but they get to travel, meet other people and make a lot of money. Comedian destroys that idea completely. It’s not a very funny movie, although it has its moments. It’s just fascinating to watch, since it’s really the first of its kind. There must have been other documentaries on comedians before, but maybe Seinfeld’s fan base allowed this one to get a wider release and more recognition.

Anyone going to see this movie expecting another episode of Seinfeld or a funny stand-up session is in for a big surprise. Comedian is thoughtful and clever, showing the perfect moments from a year of footage to shape the story. Anyone who has ever been curious about stand-up comedy should definitely check out this film. It answers Seinfeld’s old question perfectly: “Who are these people?”

Shawn Wines can be reached at