I’ve often said (the question comes up more than you’d think) that among the jobs I would never ever want are ambulance drive in SF, Brain Surgeon, and Stand Up Comic. After seeing The Comedy Club, I can’t possibly omit Comedy Club Owner from the list. This film first and foremost brings forth a huge respect for and need for a ginormous (overdue) Thank you to Tom Sawyer. Thank you Tom (and Carolyn and Michael) for your dedication to making Cobbs Comedy Club the success and joy it was for so many years. It also garners a big thumbs up to David Schendel the producer, director and cinematographer of the film, who tells the story of a true Independent so completely and in such an entertaining way.
Having spent most of my life doing various (read: all) jobs in the theater, I know that there’s an art to everything and that success often times comes from a largely unseen support group and the intuition of others guiding the “stars.” This film was a fascinating look at the man (and some of the other folks too) in the shadows of the SF comedy scene in the early 80’s and continuing on through the present. Cobbs Comedy Club was a rite of passage of sorts growing up in the Bay Area and a visit to Cobbs not only meant a chance to see great, stand up (up & coming as well as headlining comics) it also meant you’d graduated to the 21+ comedy clubs. There’s certainly a pride that swelled up in me from the first clip of this film, that the Bay Area was so influential in the comedy movement and I was able to witness that first hand (in the late 90’s and early 2000’s.)
This is a really well put together film (2 different editors over the at least 3 years of post-production), with priceless vintage comedy footage, recent interviews from comedy icons, and frank conversations (that resonated deeply) about how difficult it is to make (any) art when the need to make money dictates and the corporate monsters so difficult to compete with breathe down your neck. How can you compete in a world that thrives on stomping out the little guy, how can you survive as a creative?
Tom clearly commands industry-wide respect from the comics he helped break, helped elevate, and just plain hired and the documentary highlights how the art of laughter is not as easy as you’d think. With so much angst, tragedy and challenge surrounding the world of comedy, this narrative could have so easily gone dark, but I loved that instead it kept positive while still remaining very real. There’s a lot of heart with the humor in this film (which took years to complete) and I think the quality of this film is due in large part to the shared creative trait of “sticking to it.”As David discussed in the talk-back after the final scheduled screening today…sometimes you have to wait for the “right” end of the story, and the end of this story didn’t come where we thought it would (or where they had told their original funders it would.) The film ends perfectly though, and gives me hope that places where the craft of stand up is honed and not just manufactured can still exist. A venue and home where a young comic has some guidance and collaborative mentors and where an established comic can get back to their roots, reinvent and recreate themselves. A comic, like any artist (and perhaps more than any other?) needs a safe place to experiment in order to bring their best art to their audience. It benefits us as an audience to foster the right environment for growth and success.
In the light of art institutions closing and the recent shuttering of long time creative-based, non-profits, I think it’s even more important to support our arts. Top of mind, this translates certainly to support for the filmmakers (for telling the stories we don’t always see, enriching our lives on so many levels), the film festivals that showcase their work, the comics themselves and the comedy curators like Tom Sawyer, that work their magic off the stage. We need laughter. We need release. This world is too heavy for our fragile humanity without a steady stream of good, hearty laughs. The Comedy Club at its core illuminates a side of Comedy that is essential and yet I wager even to those that love comics, might not know about. That in my book is a win. Indeed, unless we are prepared to live in a world without them, it is up to us to support the arts “early and often”. 4 1/2 jewels out of 5 in the review tiara! Oh, and don’t forget to tip your wait staff. Mic drop.
*** With no more scheduled screenings, I can only hope that you can catch this film (especially if you’re a local and a lover of the Bay Area comedy scene) at encore day (fill out those surveys)… or at another screening somewhere.