There hasn’t been an hourlong drama about the world of stand-up comedy because it seems impossible to genuinely capture the experience of a comedian. The rejection, the pressure of making people laugh, and the neverending hustle where the endgame is always evolving — so I would think. David Flebotte’s Showtime series I’M DYING UP HERE attempts to put its finger on the pulse of the comedy world and does an admirable job of with the jokes, snark, and riffing. But the humor is merely a vehicle to show the emotional relationship between the characters, the pleasure and pain of dream-chasing, and the catharsis of comedy.
Set in the polyester, smoky haze of the ’70s Los Angeles comedy scene, I’m Dying Up Here puts the spotlight on Goldie’s (Melissa Leo) club, the hotspot for stand-ups to make a name for themselves. The ensemble dramedy jumps from character to character, telling intertwining stories that all manage to convene at Goldie’s. When one of the club’s own, Clay Appuzzo (Sebastian Stan) books a gig on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, some of the gang at Goldie’s celebrate with joy while others stay silent with jealousy. Clay’s ex and struggling female comedian, Cassie (Ari Graynor) is deeply affected while Bill (Andrew Santino) has his own mixed opinions about his success. Meanwhile, Clay’s old buds Ralph (Erik Griffin) and Edgar (Al Madrigal) are more than happy to see their bud make it big. But when a terrible accident happens, things start to change for everyone.
Leo, Stan, Graynor, Santino, Griffin, and Madrigal are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the cast. The ensemble is crowded with a mix of other real-life comedians, actors, and comedic actors. Eddie (Michael Angarano) and Ron (Clark Duke) play Bostonian imports who are looking to make a name for themselves in the comedy game while other familiar faces like Jon Daly, RJ Cyler, Stephen Guarino, and Mr. Belding himself, Dennis Haskins, populate the cast. To top it all off, big-time thespians Alfred Molina, Robert Forster, and Cathy Moriarty stop by to get in on the action in the pilot.
Without a doubt, the series is crowded…really crowded. Some may even say overstuffed. But director Jonathan Levine (Warm Bodies, The Night Before) manages to juggle the stories well. He spreads screentime as evenly as he can, giving each character enough time to introduce themselves into the fold and then bow out. Still, there is a primary focus on Stan and Graynor’s characters — with Graynor’s Cassie being the primary pick to benefit the most of the series. As a female comedian trying to elbow her way through a male-dominated industry in the ’70s, she is the obvious character to have the most interesting journey. As for the others, Leo plays the den mother and true to form, she has some great moments when she takes a huge bite out of the scenery — something she tends to do very well. There are also those who tend to leave an entertaining impression including Angarano and Duke who bring a fresh energy to the mix while the use of real stand-up comedians in a series about stand-up comedians give a certain degree of authenticity that we haven’t seen before.
The pilot gives a solid foundation to build on, but with a cast this big, caution must be taken because like a game of Jenga, if you move the wrong block at the wrong time, the whole tower could come falling down. On the plus side, the audience will never get bored because with the enormous ensemble gives the show plenty of story to tell. With its finely tuned art direction, manicured beards and coifs, and funky butterflied collar and bell-bottomed wardrobe, I’m Dying Out Here gives an emotional look at the world of stand-up without compromising the funny.
Dino watches too much TV, enjoys reality singing competitions and laughs inappropriately during dramatic films. He’s a fan of comedy, podcasts, and comedy podcasts. He’s a reformed comic book geek and thinks “The Goonies” is the best movie of all time. When he isn’t stuffing his face with a burrito, he’s thinking about his next trip to Disneyland.
Follow Dino on Twitter: @dinoray
Keep up with all of Dino’s reviews and stories here.
Dino-Ray Ramos | Staff Writer