Sometimes stand-up comics are the best characters to lead films.
While many comedians have stand-up specials, a number of comics have taken inspiration from their stand-up pasts and have portrayed big-screen characters pursuing a career telling jokes. For instance, Adam Sandler, Chris Rock and Jenny Slate are among the comics that have played fictional comedians in movies.
From the 1983 movie The King of Comedyto the 2019 biographical film Dolemite Is My Name, there are a number of films that tell the stories of characters that work in the stand-up comedy industry.
While some of the films are specifically about a character's career as a stand-up comic, such as 1992's Mr. Saturday Night and 2009's Funny People,other films pay more subtle tribute to the world of stand-up and simply feature characters who take the stage to tell jokes.
The 1983 satirical black comedy follows mentally deranged aspiring stand-up comedian Rupert Pupkin Robert De Niro. While he is a failure in real life, Rupert is a major celebrity in his mind and hosts an imaginary talk show in his mother's basement. He becomes convinced that talk show host Jerry Langford Jerry Lewis will provide his big break, though Jerry isn't interested in helping the aspiring comic. Rupert goes to extreme lengths to advance his career and kidnaps Jerry with the intention of only releasing the host in exchange for a guest spot on the talk show.
Courtesy of Photofest
The 1988 comedy stars Tom Hanks as Steven Gold, a struggling medical school student who moonlights as a stand-up comedian. When Steven meets mother and housewife Lilah Krytsick Sally Field, the two form an unlikely friendship as he helps her improve her comedy act. While Lilah's family objects to her dreams of becoming a stand-up comedian, she focuses on her craft and ultimately competes against Steven for a coveted spot on a television show.
The 1991 comedy follows stand-up comedian Terry Lumbar Martin Lawrence, who is a regular performer at the comedy club Dukie's. In addition to having trouble launching his comedy career, he is also struggling to pay his $67 phone bill and happens to be having an affair with the club owner's wife. The film takes place over the course of one night and follows Terry's journey to earn enough money to pay his bill.
'This Is My Life' 1992
Nora Ephron directed and co-wrote the screenplay for This Is My Life alongside her sister Delia Ephron. The film follows Dottie Ingels Julie Kavner, a divorcee who works at a cosmetics counter and aspires to become a stand-up comedian. When Dottie's aunt dies and leaves her Queens home to her niece, the aspiring comedian sells the house in order to afford an apartment in Manhattan. Her comedy career kicks off with the help of her agent Dan Aykroyd and his assistant Carrie Fisher, but the success of her new career ultimately gets in the way of her relationship with her daughters.
'Mr. Saturday Night' 1992
The comedy-drama film follows stand-up comedian Buddy Young Jr.'s Billy Crystal journey to becoming a television star with the help of his brother and manager, Stan David Paymer. Through a series of flashbacks, the film details the brothers' childhood and Buddy's rise to fame as he has his big break by booking his own television show. Following the decline of Buddy's career, the comedian attempts to reconnect with Stan while he also tries to make a comeback by accepting a role in a top director's new film. In addition to starring in the film, Crystal also directed, produced and co-wrote the project alongside Babaloo Mandel and Lowell Ganz.
The Judd Apatow dark comedy-drama follows comic George Simmons Adam Sandler, who takes struggling comedian Ira Seth Rogen under his wing after he learns that he has a fatal disease. The men bond as George helps Ira perfect his craft and they work to define George's legacy. The veteran comedian goes into remission as an old flame Leslie Mann reappears in his life, which gives him the opportunity to re-evaluate his life and figure out what truly matters to him.
Based on Mike Birbiglia's one-man off-Broadway show, the 2012 comedy stars Birbiglia as an aspiring comedian who's in denial about the state of his relationship, his goals for the future and his rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder. The comedian experiences intense anxiety and keeps his feelings a secret, which leads to humorous and dangerous sleepwalking experiences. In addition to starring in and directing the film, Birbiglia co-wrote the script alongside Ira Glass, Joe Birbiglia and Seth Barrish.
Gillian Robespierre's feature film directorial debut follows immature stand-up comic Donna Jenny Slate, whose one-night stand with graduate student Max Jake Lacy ends with an unplanned pregnancy. Donna decides to have an abortion and talks about what she's going to do during one of her sets.
Chris Rock wrote, directed and stars in this comedy film. While Andre Allen Rock has found success as the star of an action-comedy trilogy series, he originally got his start in the entertainment industry as a stand-up comic. When Andre is forced to spend the day with New York Times profile writer Chelsea Rosario Dawson, he unexpectedly opens up to her and gives her a tour of New York City as he reconnects with his comedic roots.
Robert De Niro once again plays a stand-up comedian in the comedy-drama The Comedian. Despite aging comic Jackie Burke's De Niro efforts to reinvent himself and his comedy act, he learns that audiences only see him as the former television character that made him famous. After accosting an audience member at a comedy show, Jackie is sentenced to 30 days in jail and is forced to complete 100 hours of community service. While doing his community service, Jackie meets and forms a bond with Harmony Leslie Mann and the two find inspiration in each other.
The 2017 film follows Pakistani comic Kumail Kumail Nanjiani and American graduate school student Emily Zoe Kazan, who meet when she heckles him during one of his stand-up sets. As they grow closer, Kumail worries that their cultural differences will get in the way of their relationship. Emily soon contracts an illness that leaves her in a coma, which forces Kumail to get to know her parents Ray Romano and Holly Hunter. In addition to starring in the film, Nanjiani wrote the autobiographical screenplay with his wife Emily V. Gordon.
The biographical comedy film follows struggling comedian Rudy Ray Moore Eddie Murphy after he finds success performing stand-up under the persona of Dolemite, a pimp with a cane known for his collection of obscene jokes and stories. After successfully selling bootlegs of his performances, Moore enlists social justice-minded dramatist Jerry Jones Keegan-Michael Key to write the 1975 blaxploitation crime film Dolemite. The 2019 film follows the process of producing and filming the movie, as well as Moore's rise to fame.
Other close calls were 'Hustlers' and 'Jojo Rabbit,' as The Hollywood Reporter reveals which side of the ledger those films, and others, landed on.
Most films can be indisputably classified as either a a drama or b musical or comedy — but some are close calls, which is why it is always interesting to see how films are submitted to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for Golden Globes consideration.
This year's entry deadline is at 11:59pm this evening, but The Hollywood Reporter has spoken with a wide cross-section of sources and can now report that the teams behind all major contenders have now submitted their preferences. By mid-November, an HFPA committee will either approve or overturn these requests.
There were a number of close calls this year.
The list of drama options will include Jay Roach's Bombshell Lionsgate, Robert Eggers' The Lighthouse A24 and Fernando Meirelles' The Two Popes Netflix— about Fox News, men losing their minds and an odd-couple relationship, respectively — even though each possesses considerable quantities of humor.
Meanwhile, the musical/comedy roster will include Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Sony, Lorene Scafaria's Hustlers STX and Taiki Waititi's Jojo Rabbit Fox Searchlight, even though each deals with fairly heavy subject matter — the Manson family, a crime ring and the Holocaust, respectively.
1998's Life Is Beautiful, the last high-profile Holocaust comedy, was not eligible for either of the two top prizes, as it is not in English — the same reason why The Farewell cannot be considered for either of the top two prizes this year — but it wasn't nominated for best foreign language film, or anything else, either.
Music-heavy films have posed something of a conundrum for HFPA voters in recent years. Many dramas featuring music — especially biopics of singers — were submitted for a musical/comedy designation, and not infrequently okayed as such see: 2005's Walk the Line. But backlash has, in more recent years, prompted the HFPA to categorize those sorts of films as dramas see: 2018's Bohemian Rhapsody and A Star Is Born, and only to wave through movies which are truly told through song.
Accordingly, Roadside Attractions has submitted Judy — in which Renee Zellweger, as Judy Garland, sings quite a few of the late singer's standards — as a drama. And, conversely, Paramount has submitted Rocketman — in which all of the principal cast members sing and songs propel the story forward — as a musical/comedy.
Here — for now — is the full lay of the land of major contenders, in alphabetical order...
Drama: 1917 Universal, Ad Astra Fox, The BankerApple, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood Sony, Bombshell Lionsgate, Clemency Neon, Dark WatersFocus Features, Downton Abbey Focus, Ford v Ferrari Fox, The Good Liar Warner Bros., Harriet Focus, A Hidden Life Fox Searchlight, Honey Boy Amazon, The Irishman Netflix, Joker Warner Bros., Judy Roadside, Just Mercy Warner Bros., The King Netflix, The Lighthouse A24, Little Women Sony, Marriage Story Netflix, Queen & Slim Universal, The Report Amazon, Richard Jewell Warner Bros., The Two Popes Netflix, Us Universal, Waves A24
Musical/comedy: Booksmart Annapurna, Cats Universal, Dolemite Is My Name Netflix, Good Boys Universal, Hustlers STX, Jojo Rabbit Fox Searchlight, Knives Out Lionsgate, Late Night Amazon, The Laundromat Netflix, Long Shot Lionsgate, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Sony, The Peanut Butter Falcon Roadside, Rocketman Paramount, Uncut Gems A24, What Men Want Paramount, Where'd You Go Bernadette? Annapurna, Yesterday Universal
BoJack Horseman is a comedy built on incongruity. It’s an inexplicable mashup of genres and styles that absolutely should not work. As the show’s final season begins its portioned-out arrival, it’s worth celebrating how BoJack Horseman gradually became not just the best show on Netflix, but arguably one of the most incisive, emotionally raw, and darkly funny shows of the new century. Here’s a show that could’ve died on the vine in its first season, yet has become one of the very best in all of television.
Back in the 90s
The title of the program, for the uninitiated, might be enough of a non-starter, because it just sounds so odd. BoJack depicts a universe almost exactly like ours, just with anthropomorphized animals and insects thrown into the mix. It’s an inside-baseball story about the entertainment industry, highlighting a bevy of current issues within the media landscape. It just happens to be animated, and focusing as much on walking, talking cats, horses including the title character, dogs, and more, as well as human characters too. BoJack, as the new episodes emphasize, is the central figure of what’s wound up as a vast ensemble program that’s as capable of dimensionalizing those who get sucked in BoJack’s orbit as BoJack himself.
The first season’s premise was ostensibly a redemption story: BoJack voiced marvelously by Will Arnett, as the closing-credits theme song always intones, was once the star of a very famous TV show called Horsin’ Around. Imagine what a Full House-style show would look like if Bob Saget was…well, a horseman. BoJack is desperate to stay relevant, and make sure people haven’t forgotten him. In the early episodes, he tries to write a memoir, working with a sharp young ghostwriter named Diane Alison Brie to do so. But BoJack’s redemption story is just being written in real life; the entire show’s journey documents it better than the written word could.
Throughout the show’s five-plus seasons — the first half of Season Six premieres on Friday, October 25, and I’ve seen all eight episodes — BoJack vacillates between wanting the help he needs and pushing it away as viciously as possible. BoJack, created by Raphael Bob-Waksberg and driven by the visual design of artist Lisa Hanawalt, works in spite of its seemingly ridiculous setup by treating itself matter-of-factly. Here is a show that can have rhyming wordplay that works best for Hollywood obsessives — “Courtly roles like the formerly portly consort are Courtney Portnoy’s forte!” — and incorporate an intentionally uncomfortable, heartbreaking depiction of dementia as filtered through the persona of an elderly hybrid horse-human.
Part of the show’s success has been its willingness to dive into ripped-from-the-headline topics that somehow manage to seem current, in spite of being in production months before something winds up in the headlines. Take, for instance, a season-two storyline about Diane — always exemplified by her unbending progressive political views even when her rigidity causes trouble — bringing to light sexual-assault allegations against a beloved older television personality, Hank Hippopopalous Philip Baker Hall. The obvious connection point, in the early fall of 2015, were similarly horrific allegations against Bill Cosby, revived when comedian Hannibal Buress brought them up in a standup set that subsequently went viral. But the scenes have gained further, darker resonance in light of the last couple years and the vast amount of powerful men in Hollywood whose own disturbing pasts have been rightfully unearthed.
BoJack Horseman has also thrived by treating its characters humanely and honestly. In the early going, one of the goofier relationships was between BoJack and his good-natured but idiotic roommate Todd Aaron Paul. Paul’s vocal presence allows an odd comparison, in which the BoJack-Todd relationship sometimes had a weird vibe recalling that of Walter White and Jesse Pinkman on Breaking Bad. Though BoJack’s crimes are often more personal, the way they further seem to damn the character — as when BoJack comes awfully close to sleeping with the underage daughter of an old friend of his, or goes on a bender with the adult woman who used to be his child co-star that ends up killing her — are shockingly similar.
And Todd, still the easiest source of silly laughs on the show, was gradually given more depth, too, in unexpected ways. Throughout the series, Todd’s been an easy go-to for ridiculous schemes that manage to allow him to fail upwards without ever really trying. In season 5, he winds up as the CEO of an inexplicably popular website dedicated to telling people what time it is right now, before being supplanted as the top executive by Henry Fondle, a chintzy sex robot he built who people mistake for a real person. It’s…a whole thing. Eventually, Todd comes to a personal conclusion: that he’s asexual. In a different show, this realization either would’ve been treated as a punchline or it wouldn’t have been brought up at all. Instead, Todd thanks both to Paul and the insightful writing gets to embrace his personality in ways that feel honest and true.
Those last three words are, in effect, what makes BoJack Horseman stand out throughout its six-season run. The new episodes lean very hard into the notion of being honest and true both to its characters, and the world as a whole. After the conclusion of season 5, BoJack begins the new season in rehab at a facility called Pastiches. The ebullient dogman actor Mr. Peanutbutter Paul F. Tompkins, always delightful is trying to quell the guilt he feels for sleeping with Diane, his ex, while dating Pickles, a social-media-obsessed dog/human hybrid voiced by Hong Chau. The episode in which Mr. Peanutbutter forces himself to admit his infidelity is one of the most delightfully zany farces since the days of Frasier.
Diane, in the subplot that’s always going to have a bit more painful, satiric resonance for anyone writing online, is pushing back against the massive media conglomerate that’s gobbling up even the female-driven website she works for. And BoJack’s agent and ex Princess Caroline Amy Sedaris struggles with her role as an adoptive mother. With each character, the past weighs heavily on their present, none more so than BoJack himself.
Even in the sixth season, BoJack’s past continues to be mined for weighty, gut-wrenching emotion. In the first episode, which goes as far as eschewing a title sequence, we learn even more about the past of the scared little kid who’s still at the core of BoJack’s personality. Arnett has long been one of the strongest assets the show has — his breakout role as G.O.B. Bluth on Arrested Development made his transition into playing the fame-obsessed BoJack a natural fit. But throughout the series, he’s proven as adept at the darker, more confessional moments to the point where the fifth season featured one episode, “Free Churro”, in which only Arnett spoke. It’s framed primarily as a eulogy BoJack gives at his mother’s funeral. His mother, voiced by Wendie Malick, served as the focal point of a Season 4 episode, “Time’s Arrow”, that is equally one of the show’s greatest half-hours.
Arnett gets similar showcases in the new season, as we see more of how BoJack was set up for failure from his youth, with a mother who could only respond with vodka-soaked jibes and a father who hated his life. BoJack spends much of the season in rehab, to a point where he becomes so dependent on the facility that he doesn’t want to leave. With only a handful of episodes left, who knows if Arnett can finally get the Emmy he so richly deserves; his voice work as BoJack goes down as the finest performance of his career.
Don’t Act Like You Don’t Know
Thus, what makes the show work, from its antiheroic lead to the rest of the vast ensemble, is that willingness to be honest and true. Of course, in 2019, being honest and true also means being more than a bit depressing. In a Diane-centric episode, she’s informed blithely by the billionaire whale gobbling up companies like the one she works at that billionaires can legally commit murder now. Diane, in rapid succession, is horrified to find that he’s telling the truth. It’s not that BoJack Horseman wasn’t a multi-dimensional program of surprising emotional depth before, but the sixth season implies that Bob-Waksberg and the writers haven’t lost their ability to go as dark and deep as possible.
As frank as BoJack can be, it’s to the credit of the writers and cast that each of these characters deserves a kind of upbeat catharsis. With only eight episodes to come at the end of January, BoJack’s redemption now feels more earned than it did before. But there’s a palpable sense of concern seeping through the last two episodes available to watch now – many of our leads seem to have reached their happy ending, before a final installment that notably doesn’t feature any of them despite hinting at further darkness to come.
And it’s all on a show where all sorts of creatures talk, and all sorts of very famous people lend their voices for both real characters and self-mocking portraitures. Jessica Biel has been a recurring character on the show, and fair is fair: Biel, who portrays herself, has a very good sense of humor. BoJack Horseman should not have ever worked, and it could have easily been scuttled after its more uneven first season. But the show has survived to deliver one of the most profound, heartfelt depictions of depression in modern popular culture. When the show arrives at its finale in January, it’ll mark the end of Netflix’s very best program, and one that’s next to impossible to top.
Last week, NBC pulled its freshman comedy Sunnyside from its Thursday night schedule and will air the fourth episode on Thursday, which will be the last on the linear network. The comedy co-created by Kal Penn and Matt Murray and executive produced by Mike Schur will air its remaining seven episodes on NBC’s digital platforms, but it isn’t 100 percent clear if the show has been canceled.
During a screening event of the fourth episode, Murray told Deadline that they pulled the comedy off the network before they were supposed to shoot episode 10 — which was going to be the final episode. “They did not tell us to stop production,” he said. “We shot episode 10 after they made the announcement and we are shooting the 11th episode now. It’s very confusing to me, but as someone who loves the cast and the writers, we’re doing everything we can to give ourselves a shot.”
In today’s wild west landscape of TV, there is a need to create a pilot that launces a series confidently — especially on broadcast. Sunnyside had a struggle out of the gate with a 0.4 18-49 rating and 1.78 million viewers in L+SD, numbers that had never been seen for a Big 4 in-season scripted series debut. Murray who has worked with Schur on bold, against-the-grain comedies like The Good Place says that with all of his projects, he just hopes he can make the best show that they can and hope it will net an audience.
“It’s kind of a tough spot to be in an era where no one watches live television,” said Murray. “We’re at a time when networks will stop paying attention to that as much — but we’re not there. I think it’s a hard spot to be especially on Thursday night up against football and baseball playoffs. I didn’t think the numbers would be that low, but that’s the trend where we are headed.”
There is a silver lining to all of this. In addition to living on NBC’s digital platforms, the comedy lives on Hulu and Penn said that the data they have received shows that the show is doing well with younger audiences. Penn then recalled the time when something similar happened to one of his other projects: Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. The film was groundbreaking in that it had two Asian men leading a comedy. Like Sunnyside, it was a inclusive project and it told a story with a diverse cast that had never really been seen before. Penn thought if the movie could play in the midwest, then it did its job when it came to representation.
“It tanked at the box office when it first came out because it wasn’t marketed properly,” he said. “It lasted two weeks in the theater and John [Cho] and I were devasted.” He thought that maybe the naysayers were right and people weren’t ready for a stoner comedy fronted by two Asian males.
But after the film came out on DVD and HBO, the film found an audience and became wildly successful, spawning two sequels. Penn said that he and Cho couldn’t walk down the street without getting recognized — and this was outside of major metropolitan areas like Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco.
That said, despite being pulled from the linear network, Penn and Murray still have hope that Sunnyside will continue to live on in the digital space and we will see Joel Kim Booster, Diana-Maria Riva, Kiran Deol, Poppy Liu, Moses Storm and Samba Schutt continue their journey as immigrants trying to become U.S. citizens. Penn has even tweeted about shopping it around and hoping it will carry on after the last episode debuts on streaming.
Upped to an 11 episode order for digital while we shop this baby around! 11 funny, heartwarming patriotic episodes of the most diverse show on tv for ya. I love our INSANELY talented writers & cast & crew!
Noah Emmerich The Americans is taking a comedic turn with a role opposite Steve Carell in Space Force, Netflix's new workplace comedy from the former Office star and The Office developer/EP Greg Daniels. Emmerich is among a trio of recurring cast additions, along with Fred Willard Modern Family and Jessica St. Clair Playing House.
Your Complete Guide to Pilots and Straight-to-Series orders
Co-created by Carell and Daniels, Space Force is centered around the people tasked with creating a sixth branch of the armed services...Space Force. It stars Carell as Mark R. Naird, a General tapped by the White House to lead a new branch of the Armed Forces with the goal of putting American “Boots on the Moon” by 2024.
Emmerich plays Kick Grabaston, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force, Mark's Carell old boss and internal rival. Resentful that Space Force is not under his command, Kick takes every opportunity to dominate and undermine Mark.
Willard plays Fred Naird, Mark's Carell father. Sharp as a tack but frail, Fred is caring for his senile wife and starting to make bad decisions, such as crawling under his house to check the pipes without telling anyone.
St. Clair plays Kelly King, a forthright civilian contractor helping Mark Carell build the new base in Colorado. She hates incompetence and children for the same reason.
In addition to star Carell, Emmerich, Willard and St. Clair join Space Force series regulars John Malkovich, Ben Schwartz, Diana Silvers and Tawny Newsome as well as fellow recurring players Jimmy O. Yang, Alex Sparrow and Don Lake. Paul King is directing two of the series’ 10 episodes , including the pilot.
Carell and Daniels, who serves as showrunner, executive produce with 3 Arts' Howard Klein.
The Americans alum Emmerich is coming off a co-starring turn opposite Sacha Baron Cohen in the Netflix limited series The Spy. He also recently starred opposite Julianna Margulies in the Nat Geo limited series The Hot Zone. He is repped by Gersh and Brillstein Entertainment Partners. St. Clair has been recurring on ABC comedy series American Housewife. She is repped by UTA, Rise Management and Morris Yorn.. Comedy veteran Willard is with Amsel, Eisenstadt.
FXX describes its new series “Cake” as a “comedy showcase.” It's an apt description, especially because trying to sum up the show in any more than two words is a much harder task than you might expect.
To follow the food metaphor the show's title invites, “Cake” is the product of a number of ingredients all working together to produce a distinct flavor. To torture that metaphor further, “Cake” is something closer to a sugary casserole, an energetic mixture of disparate comedic styles that aren't so much whipped up into batter but presented with large chunks still intact in each bite. In an entertainment world that's increasingly supported by algorithms, “Cake” doesn't allow viewers to get silo’ed into one headspace – and that’s the glory of the show.
Each half-hour episode throws together a cross-section of live-action and animated shorts. “Cake” makes reducing things down to either of those two categories a reductive process, and not just because some are an in-between hybrid. It's easy to see that the animation styles that bring many of these smaller segments to life are different, but that variety is just as much about the mindset these shorts come from.
That spectrum of sensibilities is a risky prospect. Throwing so many different ideas into one TV venture is far from common practice. Most well-established anthology series turn their changing stories into variations on a theme. Even if some of these segments fall outside your viewing comfort zone, “Cake” has the added benefit of nudging audiences toward something different.
“Cake” is also one of the few current TV shows that don't really allow for passive viewing. Color palettes change even within segments of the show that recur from episode to episode. Samantha Jayne's “Quarter Life Poetry” shifts from lighting based solely on handheld devices to a more traditional monochrome. The changing often psychedelic interstitial designs focus on movement across the whole screen, which set up some of the show's more stationary, introspective animated sections.
One of the most thrilling parts of any “Cake” episode is the end credits, where each segment gets an accounting of the work that went into creating it, regardless of its final length. It sometimes takes an army of creators to present a unified, cohesive idea. Other visions are the intricate design of a surprisingly small team. “Cake” invites you not just to watch the parade of creativity, but to think about the process that goes into stories that diverge this much.
Through it all, most — if not all — of “Cake” occupies a valuable middle ground of surreality that lets these creative visions flourish. The series standout element, Alex Karpovsky and Teddy Blanks' “Oh Jerome, No” is an ongoing catalogue of anxieties and tiny successes and missed opportunities of the titular New Yorker Mamoudou Athie. There's a very specific way that Athie responds to the ups and downs of Jerome's misadventures, but that constant push and pull between expectation and reality is what “Cake” is built on.
So as the battle for streaming supremacy escalates and platforms look for totemic properties to build viewership around, let's hope that there's room for shows like “Cake” that don't conform to one easy definition or one corner of the audience. Even with a tiny slice, life's better with more flavors.