Comedy nerds will automatically respond to AND PUNCHING THE CLOWN because of the cast: Henry Phillips, Sarah Silverman, Tig Notaro, Stephanie Allynne, Jim Jefferies, Michaela Watkins — it’s essentially a variety pack of names from various avenues of the alt comedy world. And if you are a veteran comedy nerd, you might know that this is a follow up to the 2009 Slamdance Audience Award winner, Punching the Clown — but if you haven’t seen it, that shouldn’t matter. And Punching The Clown stands well on its own as a subtle and well-crafted comedy that makes sure every laugh is worth it.
The film continues to follow the adventures of Phillips (who plays himself), a satirical comedy troubadour who catches the eye of Jay Warren (J.K. Simmons), a major TV producer in Los Angeles. They begin to develop a show, but when a major TV network gets involved, things start to take a left turn and he starts to become the butt of the jokes instead of the person telling them.
Like the first film, Phillips co-wrote And Punching The Clown with director Gregori Viens. The pair give an earnest, yet very funny look at one comedian’s struggle in the industry. The story is set up when Phillips appears on a fictitious podcast with Sharon Levine (Silverman), who is essentially a parody of an NPR host. The tells us about his beginnings and the obstacles along the way via vignettes which include his second-rate manager Ellen (Ellen Ratner) and the odd gigs she books for him, a confrontation with a unreliable cab company, as well as his relationship with long-time friend Jillian (Notaro) who ends up asking him to impregnate her girlfriend (Allynne) the “old fashioned way” — which makes for one of the funniest moments of the film.
All the side stories add more to Phillips’s version of himself. He’s awkward, passive, and uncertain — but it all makes him likeable. He’s an Eeyore-type of character that we all want to root for, but at the same time, we want to see him act as doormat to everyone around him because that’s where the comedy is. This makes the moments when he does fight back even better.
Director Viens, Phillips and the rest of the motley crew of actors of And Punching The Clown effortlessly ground this film in realism. It makes scripted comedy look very natural — which is a very difficult task to accomplish.
Dino-Ray Ramos watches too much TV 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.
Dino-Ray Ramos | Staff Writer