The Best Behind-the-Scenes Comedy Documentaries
Beyond the usual assortment of neuroses and insecurities, it’s hard to say what makes a comedian tick. While those pesky restraining orders may keep you from asking them in person, luckily, even the most famous comics occasionally allow documentarians to follow them around like stalkers with expensive audiovisual equipment. In case you thought documentaries were all nature films and soulless true crime stories, here are some of our favorite docs that went behind the scenes to examine the lives of iconic funny people…
‘ Hannibal Takes Edinburgh’
Part stand-up special, part travelogue, Hannibal Takes Edinburgh finds Hannibal Buress journeying to Edinburgh for the famous Fringe festival; we get to see him not only performing but taking in other people’s shows, capturing the uniquely chaotic culture of the event. Bizarrely, this Netflix original movie doesn’t seem to be on Netflix anymore?! Yeah, it just disappeared into the ether like a common HBO Max program.
The late great Gilbert Gottfried was the subject of 2017’s Gilbert, which followed the loudmouthed comic as he toured clubs telling raunchy jokes and, oddly, stealing and hoarding hotel toiletries. A surprisingly sweet documentary (from the director of Harmontown) that’s straight-up heartbreaking now.
‘ Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work’
Joan Rivers became a pop-culture punchline in the late 1990s and 2000s, but this acclaimed documentary gives the legendary comic her due, charting her groundbreaking rise to fame while also documenting her day-to-day business dealings and commitment to stand-up. The moment where she’s forced to defend a Helen Keller bit to a heckler is especially memorable.
‘ Monty Python: The Meaning of Live’
This doc, made for U.K. TV, may have seemed like a disposable audience-friendly chronicle of Monty Python’s 2014 reunion show — but it’s a surprisingly (and often dispiritingly) candid movie. One that delves into the making of their final production, covers the history of their live tours and essentially serves as a eulogy for the group, who only reunited to pay off an outstanding legal bill.
‘Knock Knock, It’s Tig Notaro’ and ‘ Tig’
In 2015 we got not one but two documentaries about Tig Notaro: 1) Knock Knock, It’s Tig Notaro, which is in many ways a standard tour documentary — except for the fact that all of the comedy shows were staged in assorted fans’ homes across the country; and 2) Tig, which has to be one of the most revealing movies about a comic ever made, mainly focusing on Notaro’s post-cancer struggles with fertility.
‘Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop’
Love Conan O’Brien? Big fan of public emotional crises? Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop is essentially a fascinating case study of addiction — but instead of booze or pills, it’s an addiction to putting on a comedy show for an audience on a regular basis. Weeks after losing The Tonight Show, O’Brien began work on a cross-country tour out of a self-described “neediness,” and it seemingly damn near killed him. The film is often very funny, but we also see the beloved talk show host’s low points — namely, moments of anxiety, depression and him being a dick to people for no reason.
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