Dying is easy. Comedy is hard. This saying is no truer than in Daniel Florio’s thriller, The Improviser. Brett Sugerman (Anthony Giordano) wants desperately to be part of the New York Comedy Scene. His dream is to be a professional comedian. He takes improv classes, networks at local comedy clubs, and dammit, he’s even got a podcast.
The problem is that the loner and outsider is not very funny. Every night he goes to stand-up shows to network with other comics and meets the brash Greg Taylor (Zach Garner), working on his ultra-offensive character “Alt-Right Shark.” Greg, of course, blows Brett off when he asks him to be a guest on his podcast.
Across town, Brett is part of an improv troupe, the Gigglypuffs. They are trying to earn a spot as a house team at one of the improv comedy theaters. The problem is Brett’s only character is the violent misogynist, and it’s creeping out his teammates, especially the female ones. Brett ultimately becomes a depressed comedian with no talent, and his personality only makes matters worse.
The Improviser is a cringe drama about a cringe comedian, and Brett’s story is dark from the get-go. He has no self-awareness and possesses something of a mean streak. As a result, he causes more damage to his reputation, meaning he becomes even more marginalized and rejected by his peers. Writer/director Florio brilliantly allows these two toxic elements in Brett’s personality to feed off each other, creating a very dark result.
“Brett ultimately becomes a depressed comedian with no talent, and his personality only makes matters worse.”
The danger in telling stories about unlikeable characters is that you risk making them too unlikable. Brett is a character that dangerously straddles that line, and I’m not so sure it was intentional. As I’m writing this, I’m thinking a lot about Giordano’s portrayal of Brett. I feel the urge to psychoanalyze this guy. His internal struggle is to find fame as a comedian while also wanting to feel connected to the comedy community. He idolizes the brash, overly aggressive stand-ups and brings that rage into his improv work.
I also found the improv comedy world portrayed throughout fascinating. I’ve been in this community for the past thirty years. As a teen, my dream was to be part of Second City. In the 2000s, groups like Improv Olympic and the Upright Citizens Brigade took improv classes to the next logical step creating communities anchored around the love of improv. You’ll get a good but brief glimpse into what it’s like to be part of an improv team and how “serious” these actors devote themselves to this art form.
The Improviser is worth recommending, but let me make two points of criticism. The first is the story structure. It’s a good thriller. The meat of the film is at the end regarding what ultimately happens to Brett. But, it takes a long time to get there and could have been longer while shortening the setup. I’d love to go into detail, but won’t for fear of spoilers. There are ways to stretch the ending out to “heighten the action” (improv jargon).
My other complaint is the comedy on stage. I’ll just say it. I wish the staged improv was better. Sometimes I think long-form comedy is only funny to long-form comedians. When making a film with humor, sometimes shooting hundreds of hours of improvisation is the only way to the gold that will sell audiences on the artform. I’ve had this discussion with plenty of improv comedians. Take these feelings with a grain of salt, as the film is not a comedy but takes place in the backstage comedy world. That said, if you’re looking for a good tragic thriller, The Improviser will bring you down a very dark and cringe road.
The Improviser is now on Amazon Prime, or visit its official website for more information.
"…will bring you down a very dark and cringe road."