Tribeca Film Festival presented the New York premiere of “Misery Loves Comedy,” an American Express Card Member Only Event at The SVA Theater on Wednesday, April 22, 2015. Jim Norton, director Kevin Pollak and Lewis Black were in attendance in addition to DJ’s Hannah Bronfman and Brendan Fallis. The documentary features in depth interviews with great comedy legends such as Tom Hanks, Larry David, Lisa Kudrow, and Whoopi Goldberg amongst others. The film explores a performer’s deep desire to connect with an audience and how through the stage that they are able to truly be themselves. For the majority of comedians connecting with an audience and getting the laughs can be addictive. The film shows us that the best humor might be derived from misery, but it’s the comedian’s truth in the art of storytelling that helps us all understand a little better what it means to be human. The film opens today April 24, 2015 at IFC Center and will open in seven more cities on May 1. It is also available on itunes and on demand. It was produced by Becky Newhall and Burton Ritchie. Kevin Pollak is an American actor, impressionist and comedian. He started performing stand-up comedy at the age of 10 and touring professionally at the age of 20. The festival officially ends on April 26, so be sure to check out some films before it ends. Check out highlights from the exclusive Q&A with the director Kevin Pollak, and fellow comedians, Jim Norton, Lewis Black.
What drew you to create this film?
Pollak: I was approached, this was not my original idea nor can I claim the clever title-the word play there. Becky Newhall, one of the producers was working on the idea of a documentary specifically about comedians operating from clinical depression. She mentioned this to one of my partners Burton Ricthie. He and I were developing a script that I had written. When she presented him with Misery Loves Comedy-clinically depressed comedians, he said “well I know a comedian that has been interviewing people on an internet talk show for five years and therefore can book funny people, interview them, he wants to direct, he’s been in standup comedy his whole life, maybe he’s the guy, I don’t know how depressed he is, maybe we’ll find out”. So they brought it to me. You know it’s been a bit of a no brainer to jump in the directing pool. It was a matter of booking enough people to have a film, which the first hardest part; the second hardest part was the editing. There was 70 hours of footage made into 94 minutes.
What do you mean by misery though, explain a little bit of that?
Pollak: It turns out that misery is as much as a guarantee in the human condition as taxes and debt. I don’t know why that wasn’t included in the beginning. It’s unavoidable, part of the human condition. There’s no way around it. Lost of a family member, broken heart the list goes on.
Norton: Erection difficulty (audience laughs)
Pollak: Absolutely, as a comedian they A.) not only make it more specific and B.) about themselves and C.) funny. The idea here is, that I learned from all the talent is that the comedian, the performer, the writer, painter, song writer not only has to work past their own misery but find a way to articulate it in an either provocative or entertaining way. You just shine the light on what its like to be human. Even something as trite as the missing sock in the dryer, thank you Jerry Seinfeld is about life’s misery without question, its the manusha and its all miserable and we go “where the fuck is that sock?” So that’s what I mean by misery.
So Lewis do you think we have to have misery, don’t you think we can just be content with life?
Black: Well first off before we talked about this, I didn’t know we were all clinically depressed (audience laughs) I didn’t have to sign any fucking thing. That’s a little shocking. For me it’s irritation, which reaches fucking all most everything. What’s insane to me about what I do more than anything else, is that people come up to me after a show and say can I take a picture with you and can you give me the finger? (audience laughs) Or would you sign the book, “Fuck You” that’s not misery, they’re miserable. I don’t know what the fuck is happening here. It’s basically “boy this happened to me thing” then you go from there. But I think with Misery Loves Comedy is amazing, that it’s the people that come to see you. They’re the ones that love comedy.
Norton: They love you for misery. Well happiness is not as interesting. It’s not that it’s not nice, I love being happy but if your talking to somebody and are like “how was your date?” and they are like “it was a delight, he was a prince” you’re like “ah fuck you” (audience laughter) but if you’re like “it was terrible, he was late and he took his dick out” you’d sit down and inquire the details (audience laughter)
Watching your act, you have a miserable point in there. How did you come to that? You talk about struggles in your life. You talk about real things in your comedy.
Norton: When I first started out what made comics respond was when I talked about my sexual dysfunction, hookers or any of that stuff. People responded to that or my own self-image. Like when I ‘m looking this film, I’m not listening but looking at how many times you show my weak chin. I’m like my profile is fucking horrible. Why do they keep showing that angle, that’s all I’m thinking of-there’s a giant turtle talking.
Black: That’s not misery, is it?
Norton: I think that if you’re ok with it, the audience is ok with it. As long as I’m comfortable why won’t they be?
You talk about the narcissism involved in comedy, can you elaborate on that?
Pollak: It’s the narcistic dream, you’re talking they’re listening. Clearly we have the microphone. When there’s a hackler you’re like “look pal, I’m amplified you don’t have a chance, so the idea is you take the audience for a ride out of your choosing, they pay to see you and they come to a theater and you’re there an hour or 90 minutes, that level of control doesn’t exist in life. So whether it’s a drug or a narcissistic endeavor, I think we decided at some point that we were ok with being the center of attention.
Yanique Bourjolly contributed reporting.