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Josh Reviews Kevin Pollak’s Misery Loves Comedy

As I have written about multiple times, I am a huge fan of Kevin Pollak’s amazing podcast Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show, in which Mr. Pollak sits down for extended (and I mean extended — most of the interviews are about two hours long) conversations with comedians and actors to talk about their lives, their careers, and their craft.  It’s a delicious inside baseball sort of conversation, a delight for a comedy nerd like me.  Mr. Pollak has proven to be a remarkably talented interviewer, able to be very funny while also asking very insightful, probing questions of his guests.

Over the years, as a regular viewer/listener of the show, it’s clear that there have been certain topics that Mr. Pollak has proven to be particularly interested in exploring with his guests, areas of conversation to which Mr. Pollak seems to return, again and again, with his various guests.  Two of these have become the basis for Mr. Pollak’s new documentary film: first, what is it that makes these comedians/performers first decide to spend their lives entertaining others (what Mr. Pollak amusingly calls “hey look at me disease”) and second, is it true that to be truly funny one needs to have a deep well or sadness and/or trauma in one’s life?

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Mr. Pollak’s new film, Misery Loves Comedy, is a big bold underline under these favorite themes of Mr. Pollack’s.  It feels like a summary of all of those interviews.

The film boasts a staggering array of talent.  Just look at some of these people who appear in the documentary: Jimmy Fallon, Tom Hanks, Kevin Smith, Judd Apatow, Janeane Garofalo, Whoopi Goldberg, Christopher Guest, Stephen Merchant, Larry David, Jason Alexander, Jim Gaffigan, Lewis Black, Penn Jillette, Richard Lewis, Maria Bamford, James L. Brooks, Andy Richter, Robert Smigel, Alan Zweibel, Jim Norton, Amy Schumer, Jon Favreau, Sam Rockwell, Bobby Cannavale, Matthew Perry… and that’s just scratching the surface.  Mr. Pollak’s connections in the comedy world serve this film well.  I was continually impressed by the A-level talent featured, and also by the inclusion of some great and fascinating lesser-known people.

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Larry David’s interview appears to be the one interview in the film that was taken directly from his appearance on Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show.  All the other interviews appear to have been newly-recorded for the film.

The film is very, very funny, as you might expect from such a spectacular assemblage of funny people.  And it also succeeds in digging into some of the more serious questions that Mr. Pollak is clearly interested in exploring.  I was fascinated to hear Freddie Prinze Jr. talk about his father’s suicide, and Kevin Smith has a great story about how he feels comedy saved one of his close friend’s life.

I loved the film, but after watching it I also have to admit that its strength is also its weakness.  We get to hear from a phenomenal array of talented comedians, performers, actors and writers.  And yet, because the film cuts so rapidly from famous face to famous face, we don’t have the time to get too deeply into any of their stories.  The film feels in some ways to be far more superficial than so many of Mr. Pollak’s two-hour interviews, during which he is able to get so much deeper into that one person’s story.  I recommend this film wholeheartedly, and yet I even more strongly recommend the Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show episode featuring Richard Kind, or Eddie Izzard, or Rob Reiner, or Kevin Smith, or Seth MacFarlane, or Stephen Tobolowsky, or Jon Landis, or Ivan Reitman, or Paul Feig, or Barry Sonnenfeld, or Larry David (which was excerpted in the film, as I’d mentioned above), or… well, I could go on, but you get the picture.  (Click here to access Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show on itunes.)

For comedy fans out there, you won’t be disappointed by Misery Loves Comedy.  It’s a fascinating look into the lives of these comedians, and good lord what an impressive array of talent has been assembled to appear in the film.  But if the film leaves you somewhat unsatisfied, just consider it an appetizer to the main meal that is Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show.

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