Based on some of its press materials, I was expecting comedian and director Victor Varnado's movie The Awkward Comedy Show to be a documentary about a specific movement in the black comedy community. It isn't. It's actually a pretty standard concert film in the same vein as The Original Kings of Comedy and The Comedians of Comedy, combining live stand-up footage from an excellent panel of comics with some brief interviews and backstage business. It introduced me to a couple of new comedians (I was already familiar with Chicago comedian and Saturday Night Live writer Hannibal Buress and recognized director Varnado from his brief-but-memorable role in the lame Arnold Schwarzenegger horror outing End of Days) and provided nearly 90 minutes of solid stand-up. What it did not do is what I was hoping it would do more of -- that is, take me deeper inside a kind-of niche movement that, prior to the film, I really didn't know existed.
The Awkward Comedy Show kicks off with comedian Marina Franklin, who plays emcee for the entire show. It's a role she performs admirably; she's got good energy and knows how to keep things moving along. If her set doesn't exactly bring the house down, that's ok -- she's warming the crowd up, and needs to leave the other comics somewhere to go. Next up is Baron Vaughn, possibly my favorite comic of the four. He's polished and his set is tight and accessible; to keep the Original Kings of Comedy comparison alive, he reminded me of D.L. Hughley. Perhaps its no mistake that he's in the same slot.
Following Vaughn is Eric Andre, a comedian that left me with somewhat mixed feelings. Andre's delivery is first rate, and he takes the stage with supreme confidence -- he's an attack dog, and The Awkward Comedy Show is never more alive than when he's performing his set. I only wish his material was as strong as his approach; it's mostly absurdist observations and non-sequiters, and Andre is all to happy to alienate the audience when his jokes fall flat -- he's not unaware, but he doesn't really care, either. After him is Hannibal Buress, whose style couldn't be more different from Andre's; paired back to back as they are in The Awkward Comedy Show, Andre and Buress make for an interesting lesson on disparate comedic approaches. Buress is all laid-back meekness, with a deadpan style reminiscent of Steven Wright. Like Andre, his delivery is somewhat more memorable than his material, but I like that both have been included as part of The Awkward Comedy Show -- not just because they're both comedians to watch, but because they bring a great deal of variety to the five-comic lineup.
Batting clean-up is director Victor Varnado, who does a lot of material on race (he's a black albino) and nerdiness. His set was as strong as Baron Vaughn's, and it's a tight toss-up on who my favorite comic of the five would be. Varnado's routine doesn't quite bring the house down, and it should; the movie never really builds towards a finale, which means it ends up repeating itself in both rhythm and energy. But because the comics are consistent and likable, that's not such a bad thing.
Interspersed with each of the routines is a brief interview with each comic, who recounts a story from his or her childhood (set to animation). There's also a bit of behind-the-scenes interviewing, wherein each comedian comments on the humor of another. It's a nice way of breaking up the live material and cool to see the comics hanging out with one another, but never goes as in depth as I might have liked. There's one conversation near the end of the film where the group finally discusses the possibility of distinguishing between a black comedy show and an urban comedy show (it has to do not with the audience, but with their expectations) and it provides a hint of what I was hoping for more of from The Awkward Comedy Show. Director Varnado and the other four comics are clearly hoping to distinguish themselves from a number of other black comedians and bring some attention to a smaller, more alternative movement in the black comedy scene; while I appreciate that the film never gets preachy in trying to make a case for the genre (preferring to let the comedy speak for itself), it might have been nice to at least hear more of the participants' thoughts on the state of comedy and their place within it. Again, it has more to do with what I wanted the movie to be versus what it actually is. What it is is an enjoyable, funny stand-up film featuring some talented and possibly under-appreciated comics. What I was hoping for was a more in-depth documentary about the alternative black comedy scene. I'm still happy with what The Awkward Comedy Show is, even if I was hoping for more.
- Comedy Central Premiere Date: 4/9/10
- Release Date: 5/4/10
- Running Time: 83 minutes
- Not Rated
- 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
- Dolby 2.0 Stereo (English)
DVD Bonus Features
- Audio Commentary with Victor Varnado, Jay Stern and Hannibal Buress
- Backstage with the Awkward Kings
- Bonus Interviews
- Bonus Jokes