Friday, January 1, 2016

Knock Knock, It's Tig Notaro

Year 8, Day 1 - 1/1/16 - Movie #2,201

BEFORE: How do I begin another year?  Or, perhaps more to the point, WHERE do I begin another year?  Aren't we all asking ourselves the same question?  Maybe, but I have to now watch a movie after "Star Wars", how can anything follow "Star Wars"?  Fortunately I've been using January 1 as a sort of reset button, there does not need to be any thematic or actor link between my last movie of 2015 and my first movie of 2016.  Which works out well, because even with a cast of dozens, I can only name one "Star Wars: Episode 7" actor who's in another film on my watchlist, and that film is scheduled for February.  (But if I were linking, which I'm not, Judah Friedlander had a cameo in "The Force Awakens", and he was in "Wet Hot American Summer" with Ken Marino, who was also in tomorrow night's film with Tig Notaro.)  

But why here, why start 2016 with this film?  A small documentary about a comedian going across the U.S. to perform, a subject that's 180 degrees away from a galactic sci-fi struggle?  The short answer is, after laying out my watchlist on scrap paper with circled names and arrows, this film shares its star with only ONE other film, and I can't say that about the others.  So unless I want a break in the chain down the road, I've got to start here.  As an added bonus, I've worked out a chain that gets me to where I need to be on February 1, in a series of 29 movies, which I think I can easily extend to 31 if needed.  So that's a bit like going on a long car ride, you figure out how far away that other city is, and if you know what speed you like to drive on the highway, then a bit of math tells you when you need to leave the house.  I know I need to be somewhere in 31 days, so I need to leave now.  

But it also allows me to talk about comedy for a minute, not just funny movies but stand-up comedy, which has admittedly not been a focus of this project, since I wanted to concentrate on classic films.  I also collect stand-up specials, I just don't review them.  And this film is part stand-up special, part documentary.  (I also want to watch more documentaries this year, I just don't have any lined up now.)  At heart I'm a collector, of comic books and movies and autographs and videogames and trivial facts, (also photos of my food, names of beers I've tried, cities I've visited, but I digress) and I've built up a nice little library of stand-up specials, in case I ever want to go back and watch them.  Turns out I never have time to go back and watch them, but let's not get into that right now, OK?  

I think a lot of this goes back to when I was a kid, and before I was into rock music I was big on novelty songs.  "Weird Al" Yankovic hit the scene when I was about 12, but I also listened to Spike Jones records, Stan Freberg, and anything else that was played on the syndicated Dr. Demento show.  (Dr. Demento was an avid record collector who shared his finds as a sort of comedy DJ, I don't know if he's still alive and doing what he did, or if he's podcasting now, but I should probably find out)  And I'd tape the show on a little recorder with a microphone held up to the radio speaker, because I didn't have sophisticated stereo equipment, then I'd play back my favorites in-between Sunday shows.  This led to a filing system of index cards and numbered cassettes so I could find everything, and now I realize that this is how the OCD starts.  

ASIDE: After spending time with my niece and nephew at Christmas, I can't help but think back to when I was their age, to try and remember if I exhibited behavior similar to theirs.  I'm fairly sure I never had that much energy, but since they're constantly repeating back phrases from cartoons (Dinosaur Train, Ninjago, whatever the kids watch these days) like listing dinosaurs from A to Z, I think, yeah, I did stuff like that.  Only I was memorizing complete George Carlin routines, like "A Place For My Stuff" or "The Fussy Eater" so I could recite them for family members, as if the insights were my own.  

2ND ASIDE: I did get to watch the original "Star Wars: Episode IV" with my niece and nephew, but they'd seen the story reflected and riffed on in so many other forms - Lego Star Wars video-games, cartoons like "The Yoda Chronicles", and countless parodies - that I fear watching the original "A New Hope" was almost an afterthought for them.  If they watch "The Empire Strikes Back" now, they won't be surprised when Yoda introduces himself, as soon as they see him, they'll know who he is.  That's a bit sad, some of the mystery will be inevitably lost. 

Back to comedy - I taped a Marc Maron special today, "More Later", and at the start they interviewed him before appearing on stage, neurotically trying to decide if he should eat pizza before the taping, or in-between shows.  Next to him was a stack of notes on his jokes, essentially the ones he was trying to decide about, laid out on scrap paper with circles and arrows, and I thought, "Aha, someone else with behavior similar to mine!"  Anyone who enjoys comedy (or any form of entertainment) doesn't usually see the work that goes into making it, the struggle that people go through, working hard to make the final product look so easy.  I've done just enough acting (on stage and also voice-overs) to empathize - the best acting isn't perceived as acting at all, it's more like being, but it's a hard road to get there. 

So, since I usually send out a dedication on January 1, and thankfully there hasn't been much tragedy in my life over the past year, I'm sending a shout-out to the comedians.  Not just Tig Notaro and Marc Maron, but anyone who's in the business of being funny, because they cheer me up and help keep me going.  There are a few dozen that I enjoy regularly, like Patton Oswalt, Craig Ferguson, Lewis Black, Eddie Izzard, Dave Attell, Jim Breuer, Louis C.K., Jim Gaffigan, Gilbert Gottfried, Denis Leary, Jim Norton, Steven Wright and probably 100 others I catch whenever they're on.  And here's to the fallen, Mitch Hedberg, John Pinette, Rodney Dangerfield, and Papa George Carlin.  

Another bonus, this film is about a journey, a quest of sorts, and that's universal, too.  Whatever your passion is, you've got to get out there and pursue it.  God knows I'd love to take the time and go do a BBQ crawl across the American South, it's not feasible in any way, but who's to say I won't find a way to do it someday?  

THE PLOT:  Comedian Tig Notaro travels across the country in order to put on a series of performances in the homes, backyards, barns, and basements of her most loyal fans.

AFTER: I watched a few minutes of this last year, when I was deciding whether to put it on a DVD full of stand-up, along with Tig Notaro's "Boyish Girl Interrupted" (more on that later).  I only watched about 10 or 15 minutes, but that was enough to give me a sense of the project.  You could probably watch any 10 minutes of this film and get the premise, namely that fans across the country submitted videos in order to suggest venues for Tig's tour, whether it would be in a local club or their own living room.  The comedian's personal safety would no doubt be guaranteed by the fact that a camera crew would be filming the whole process for a Showtime special.  Still, some of those "average" Americans looked a little sketchy.  

As far as I know, this film is unique, no one ever turned a movie over to their fans like this, because, why would they?  A rock band goes out on tour, but every detail of such a trip is controlled, from the number of seats in the arena to the price of T-shirts at the concession stand.  In spring of 2015 I organized a tour of sorts for my boss, allowing him to appear at theaters in 13 cities that were screening his film before coming back to New York, and it sure wasn't easy.  Most of the time he'll fly to another city and then fly back, he'd never done a marathon tour like that before.  Our theater booker had accepted invitations from the 13 theaters without first determining if that itinerary was even possible, and even with most theaters providing hotel and one-way airfare, I had to step in and figure out if it could be done, and if so, which two one-way fares and one hotel reservation had to be purchased to complete the trip.  

Comedians?  They do that ALL the time.  Some probably spend more than half the year on the road, like some business trip that never ends, or some twisted version of "Death of a Salesman" where Willy Loman is telling jokes.  And then after traveling and (I'm guessing) spending the night in a crappy hotel, they have to get up on stage and be funny.  Sure, there are the comics famous for complaining, and a lot of that probably feeds off their experiences, but for the most part, they have to be upbeat and energize a crowd.  

Add on whatever might be going on in their personal lives, and when you add it all up, I don't know how they do it.  Sure, just like Taylor Swift and Adele, comedians can channel any relationship disasters into their act, but here Tig was coming off of a break-up, a cancer diagnosis, another illness, and the death of her mother.  I guess with all that, wanting to get out on the road and drive to a random destination makes a certain kind of sense.  Plus, it may have helped generate the type of sarcasm and forced awkwardness that she's become known for.  Most famously, she imitates the sound of a clown horn, and has been known to repeat it until it becomes funny again, while simultaneously chiding the audience for laughing at it.  

It's good to have a creative outlet, it's good to have fans and it's good to have friends who will go on long car trips with you, seemingly on a moment's notice.  And most everything here, from Tig interacting with fans to purchasing fireworks and a tombstone from a roadside vendor, seems to have occurred in the name of personal growth and healing.  But I wonder if there's a more destructive element to constant touring, like those 80's rock bands in those "Behind the Music" specials.  Where does it end for many of those "sad clown" comedians?

Lord knows, if I got any kind of terminal diagnosis, I'd probably jump in the car and head out for a tour of the country's best BBQ restaurants, creating some personal version of "Leaving Las Vegas", only with brisket and ribs in place of alcohol.  

Also starring Jon Dore, with cameos from Jeff Garlin (last seen in "Safety Not Guaranteed"), Seth Meyers (last seen in "The Interview"), Nick Kroll (last seen in "Get Him to the Greek")

RATING: 6 out of 10 water bottles

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