Com­edy with chest hair

Jim Car­rey be­hind dar­ing new TV se­ries

Richmond Hill Post - - Arts -

I’m Dy­ing Up Here is a new TV drama de­vel­oped by Toronto na­tive Jim Car­rey about the com­edy scene in Los Angeles in the mid-’70s.

The se­ries is based on a non­fic­tion book of the same name by Wil­liam Knoedelseder, which cov­ers the nascent com­edy ex­plo­sion at the famed Com­edy Store. The book is pop­u­lated with char­ac­ters such as a young David Let­ter­man, a cal­low Jay Leno, an in­no­cent Garry Shan­dling and so on. It also paints an acid-edged por­trait of Mitzi Shore, the doyenne of the scene.

I sup­pose the pro­duc­ers couldn’t get the rights to all the comics’ tales, so they fic­tion­al­ized the show in­stead, with mixed re­sults. Maybe that’s why so many comics aren’t en­joy­ing the show.

The se­ries has a lot in com­mon with last year’s short-lived retro se­ries Vinyl, which took a jaun­diced look at the mu­sic busi­ness of the same era. In both cases, there’s a lot of hair, polyester and phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals. This seems ac­cu­rate in mu­sic, but I re­mem­ber the com­edy scene be­ing a lot less harsh.

The pi­lot in­cludes sui­cide, co­caine, al­co­holism, ca­sual sex and fights. It makes for com­pelling drama, but what I know of comics is that they’re more pas­sive than ag­gres­sive.

The orig­i­nal rou­tines on the show are funny and per­formed by ac­tors, not standups. Yet here again the re­al­ity di­verges from the nar­ra­tive. Most of the comics on the show work dirty, but what I re­mem­ber most from that era were clean-cut mid­west­ern­ers such as Tom Dreesen and Let­ter­man.

But there were some in­ter­est­ing char­ac­ters in those days, and Car­rey him­self was one of them.

Car­rey had a rough go of it for a while. He ar­rived in L.A. as Canada’s golden boy and was given a sit­com that tanked, and he was re­duced to crawl­ing inside the Com­edy Store piano one night when his set bombed so badly. It took years of strug­gle be­fore he landed a role on In Liv­ing Colour that turned around his ca­reer.

I wish there were more of Car­rey and his con­tem­po­raries in the se­ries, but what we get in­stead is a col­lec­tion of stereo­types such as the Jewish comic, the black comic and so on.

Knoedelseder’s book re­counts the story of the in­fa­mous comics’ strike that crip­pled Mitzi Shore’s rep­u­ta­tion. The comics wanted to be paid. Shore re­fused, feel­ing it would end the creative free­dom of her artists’ colony. Things got so bad that one comic, Steve Lu­betkin, com­mit­ted sui­cide.

I’m hop­ing Dy­ing Up Here will be re­newed for a sec­ond sea­son. The story of the comics’ strike and many oth­ers need to be told.

Young ac­tors per­form standup rou­tines in ‘I’m Dy­ing Up Here’

MARK BRES­LIN Post City Mag­a­zines’ hu­mour colum­nist, Mark Bres­lin, is the founder of Yuk Yuk’s com­edy clubs and the au­thor of sev­eral books.

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