After Can We Take a Joke? and Dying Laughing, there is some desire to say I understand comedy. Add in documentaries on Richard Pryor and you learn to respect those who step up on stage. But while those documentaries give you some perspective, I’m Dying Up Here presents a dramatization all that. It gives you a long form idea of the trials and small victories which come with being a comedian. The Warts, depression, drug abuse, laughter, relationships, suicide, success, and all.
In 1973 LA, everyone wants to hit the main-stage at Goldie’s (Melissa Leo) comic club. She is like a mother to them. Someone who nurses them, trains them, and then kicks them out the nest. Sends them off to Johnny Carson (Dylan Baker) when they are ready. That’s what she did with Clay (Sebastian Stan). That is what she may do with the rest of the cast too, assuming they brush up.
However, as has become a consistent topic when it comes to comedians, there is a darkness. For each and everyone, there is a darkness they have to pull from in order to get that laugh. Something which can be hard. Especially when you have to keep tapping at that well and submerging yourself in your $***. But alongside that comes the question of what to do when you make it? You got on Carson, you got invited to sit down, you have everything you asked for. Where to go from there?
Clay didn’t know and he seemingly killed himself over it. So when it comes to the comedians he left behind, where will their journeys go? Stick around to find out.
Fear of death is not my issue. Fear of irrelevancy. Now, that scares the shit out of me.
The Majority of Characters Feel Like They Can Grow On You
Outside of Goldie and Cass (Ari Graynor), there isn’t a character you can just latch onto. Everyone is very awkward, in a sort of NBC way, and don’t properly compensate for their eccentricities. Yet, in their flaws and weirdness, they seem human. There is this idea that a real person lives behind the jokes. Like, the writing is done so that you can learn so much about a character just in one set. You can learn about their relationship history, their fears, the problems they have with society in one set.
Which, with time, may lead to some of these characters becoming your favorites.
Goldie & Cass
But the two who stand out the most and will hook you immediately is Goldie and Cass. For Goldie, she is brash and fits the type of women Showtime often have as their leads. She is an every-woman. Goldie can be that bitch that everyone hates. Perhaps the mother figure that many wish they had, but is never someone stripped of her femininity. She can hang with the boys, even beat them at their own game, but the character remains a woman.
What I mean by that is, she doesn’t hide her feelings or touts them as weakness. When Clay dies, she is just as affected as everyone else. Not just because it hurts her business, but because she is the one who pushed him. Perhaps too soon. Thus giving us, the viewer, a multifaceted character who surely will be talked about during Emmy and Golden Globe times. Hopefully more so for their nomination than a snub.
As for Cass? Being that she is the only female comic thus featured, she stands out. Add on that she is Clay’s ex and it really pushes her toward the forefront. But rather than Clay be her claim to fame, she becomes more than that. Arguably, she even may surpass representing the plight of the female comic’s burden. With time, we may see her become the top comic on the show. That, alongside helping us to understand Goldie’s methods. Especially in terms of how she pushes comics until they reach the pinnacle of what she can offer.
The Majority of Men Seem Interchangeable
The main difference between the men is their hairstyles and how they style their beard. Even when it comes to Clay, he doesn’t stand out really. You never really get what Goldie saw in him. He isn’t that funny, nor are most of the men. So for her roster to be mostly them you can only contribute to the times. Surely not by merit or being unique.
On The Fence
For A Show About Comedians, I Expected To Laugh More
Of the cast, there seems to be only two which can be considered brand new to the game. The rest can be considered veterans who just never made it to TV. With that in mind, I’m thinking I’m going to be cracking up for an hour.
Outside of Cassie and one male comedians, I was just waiting to laugh. Waiting for a dramatic moment to get me teary eyed. Which Cass towards the end. However, outside of that I was as numb as if I just got dental surgery. For the pilot really does seem like everyone chasing after Goldie or talking about Clay. Which is ok, since this is the pilot. But Clay’s death, to me, could have been held a few episodes. Been built up to mean something. That is, rather than pretend like a suicide or death, in episode 1, is a good starting place anymore. Because, let me tell you, it’s not. It’s just lazy. Especially since clay doesn’t even stay dead. He pops up with smart alack remarks throughout the rest of the episode.
Overall: Mixed (Stick Around)
The thing about Showtime is, I don’t think any of its shows really sell themselves off the bat. Sort of like what NBC offers, you have to make a commitment. You have to invest in a season to see if the show is really good. For outside of perhaps Shameless, the way their shows work is there is one central figure, usually a woman, you can latch onto. That woman is perhaps the sole hook of the show. From there, as she makes others relevant, you learn to like the others. Some more than others, but like a luxurious Trojan horse, you get there.
Which is why I’m labeling this as mixed. The premise itself is interesting: the life and jokes of up and coming comics in the 1970s. An age before social media made anyone able to earn the title of comedian. A time where it wasn’t about going viral but working your craft. Where likely, people like Goldie forced you to find your voice and shtick. Which likely is what will save the show. You getting as invested in these comedians as Goldie is. You getting to see what they turn into laughter. Getting another viewpoint of what appears to be a glamorous career that really can be dark at times. Especially when you aren’t sure if the crowd is laughing at you or with you anymore.