Comedy with chest hair
Jim Carrey behind daring new TV series
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.