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By Chris Iorfida | November 14, 2002

“Comedian” clearly demonstrates that even for someone who’s achieved incredible fame, evoking side-splitting laughter with mere words is more of a daredevil act than performing stunts involving all manner of explosives and orifices.
Shot on digicam, “Comedian” follows Jerry Seinfeld, circa 2000, when he decides to get back on the stand-up bike, eschewing all of his previous material. You can trot out the comedy as addictive drug cliché, but it’s compelling stuff watching Seinfeld follow his compulsion as he walks from depressing dressing rooms (often through busy kitchens) and hitting a stage in front of measly crowds. Seinfeld’s stage command resembles a neophyte’s during his early performances, and seems as funny as the standard fare on BET Comedy Hour. It’s clear that while the audience is never going to boo him off the stage, his star profile won’t bring laughs on its own.
There are interesting and amusing scenes with Jerry discussing the craft and tracking his progress with cronies like Garry Shandling, Chris Rock, and Colin Quinn. The most revelatory scene is where the mega-successful Seinfeld and Jay Leno probe their respective psyches and motivations for continuing to do standup, surrounded by the graffiti-covered walls of a comedy club dressing room.
Seinfeld’s comedic rebirth is contrasted with one Orny Adams, an NYC club regular who’s itching to make it past the city line. But whereas Jerry’s neurosis is a success and who will forever feel he’s an impostor (best summed up by Rock, who offers his take on having recently seen Cosby perform: “I feel like a f*****g fraud”), Adams is a mediocre talent who can’t understand why everyone doesn’t get his brilliance.
Adams’ act has some potential, but offstage, he’s so unctuous and self-aggrandizing. His eyes are so firmly fixed on future sitcom deals that you start to suspect the filmmakers have edited the footage to portray him in the most unsympathetic light.
This notion comes crashing down during a scene where an industry veteran commends Orny on his material, but cautions him to tone down his constant backstage carping. During the exchange, it’s revealed that Adams equates Steven Wright’s relative lack of face time on TV with has-been status, and he appears stunned when informed that the deadpan comic has an Academy Award to his credit.
But of course, the real star of the show is Jerry. We follow his progression through ever-increasing time increments of new material as he hits clubs across the country. His journey culminates in a Letterman appearance and a Radio City Music Hall gig. There’s funny bits about answering machine messages, thinktanks, and motorcycle helmets. None may immediately grab like his classic take on blood-removing laundry detergent, but you can marvel at his mastery over intonation and expression.
You’ll find out more about what makes Seinfeld tick professionally, but other than some brief scenes with wife and baby, you won’t find out much about him personally. By all accounts, he was pretty inscrutable even before the fame. And while the cynical might ask why should we care about a gazillionare with some new jokes to tell, they’d be missing the point. This is a film about the art of originating and honing a creative act, and while stand-up comedy may never be confused with the fine arts, it’s evident the practitioners go through similar tortuous paces.
Those with an interest in the art of stand-up will revel in this, and there’s enough laughs to sustain it for those not looking to overintellectualize things. More importantly, it should be mandatory viewing for any knucklehead, whom, based on his three or four funny moments on a drunken weekend night, concludes that he should immediately head to the next amateur night.

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