Actor Kevin Pollak called in a tremendous amount of favors for his directorial debut, Misery Loves Comedy, a documentary which features a cavalcade of comedians discussing their careers and unique styles, show business, and, as posited by the title, whether or not you have to be miserable to be funny. Commingling industry shoptalk with introspective insights and wrangling testimonials from the likes of Judd Apatow, Jimmy Fallon, Amy Schumer, Martin Short, Tom Hanks, and 40 other working comedians, the film casts an incredibly wide net, but doesn’t reveal much of anything. Listening to funny people tell amusing anecdotes can get boring very quickly if a concrete thesis never materializes. The film is broken up into various segments (including “Hey, Look at Me,” which focuses on class clowns, and “Bombs Away,” a look at failing on stage), but the testimonials therein are essentially interchangeable, barely distinguishable from one to the other, suggesting the film would benefit from a more streamlined approach and far less interviews.
Because that’s truly all we have here: a long, tedious parade of talking-head interviews with famous people occasionally broken up by an archival still image or graphic transition swipe courtesy of iMovie. The visual and formal monotony is so much that it detracts from the interesting personalities on screen, rendering even their most shrewd and perceptive comments dull and exasperating. There’s also some troubling inconsistency with the subjects themselves. Some are barely featured (Richard Lewis, Maria Bamford, and Mike Birbiglia), while others dominate without adding much to the overall conversation, like Freddie Prinze Jr., who seems to appear here by virtue of his father having been a comedian. As more faces emerge, the thing that most comes to light is the prevalence of white men, contributing to the steadfast notion that the stand-up comedy scene is majorly lacking in racial and gender diversity. That’s an issue that Pollak either doesn’t consider or chooses to avoid, ultimately revealing Miserly Loves Comedy as an act of cowardice, a film that skirts around faux-existential queries without getting to the heart of anything important to the actual subject.