A lot of people seem to think that the only legitimate life a person can lead is the life of an artist. To them, time spent working for the man in a cubicle is wasted time, while the free spirits are out there carpe-ing the diem and living life. As someone who works in a cube farm I can be susceptible to that idea, too; it’s a romantic notion that’s easy to believe. But there are other times that I’ll think about the actual life of someone who is trying to follow their vision and think, no, that’s also bullshit.
This documentary is a good example of why the artistic life is less romantic than people think. Most of the time when you check in on an artist there’s some compelling reason they are being profiled - they are on the way up or trying to come back from a fall – and it’s easy to find something compelling in those stories. In contrast, this documentary is a day in the life portrait that stand up comedian Doug Benson made during a normal period of his career and it is a lot more pedestrian as a result. This is a movie about a guy doing the work, going from town to town, club to club, and quite honestly his life looks pretty depressing.
Anyone who is slightly familiar with the generic complaints of travelers will recognize a lot of the problems Benson faces - Airports are a time-wasting drag for serious travelers and hotels are impersonal little boxes you can never get too comfortable in. But there are also insights into comedian specific problems. The early morning radio shows he has to appear at to promote his shows start at an extremely early hour in the morning for someone whose main job takes place late at night. Even worse, these appearances don’t even do anything to drum up business. There’s a lot of repetition in everything the man does, whether that’s spending hours in a car driving or getting on stage in town after town saying the same jokes to similarly anonymous crowds. Most of the time Benson is high, but most of the time it seems less like he’s doing it because he thinks it will be fun and more because being stoned is how he self medicates his way through life.
The worst parts are definitely the strangers, though. After every show Benson hangs out with whoever wants to stop by and it seems like a never ending freak parade. There’s a way too drunk mother of a three year old who throwing a tantrum because security won’t let her backstage and there’s a guy who looks like Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons who brings a didgeridoo to the pot circle. Other people might have a higher tolerance for this sort of random public interaction but it gave me the heebie jeebies. You can’t know what you’re going to get when a strange person wanders up to you and having to wonder “is this person a fan? A weirdo? What’s going to happen here?” would give me endless anxiety.
This movie clearly wasn’t meant to indict the life of a traveling comedian, but rather to document a few average months in the life of a pretty successful stand up. But that’s part of why it struck me as being so terrible: when an artist leads a rollercoaster life with intense highs and lows you can sort of say “well, that’s fate”, but when it’s more consistent the only thing you can say is “well, that’s life.” Fate can be exotic; it’s bad effects can be rationalized away. But the bummer parts of life are just tedious, and there’s no real way to dress them up. The idea of telling jokes for a living seems really elevated, but I’m not sure that it’s that great if you have to get high every day to do it.
Winner: the Cat