Top 10 Films About Comedy & Show Business
The below movies represent a personal choice of work (in no particular order) who have successfully communicated a realism about the comedy and show business profession. Having watched several films and stage plays on this industry. Few do the business justice.
Each of films in the list displays a different aspect of the stand- up comedy or entertainment industry from either the bottom or the top. All transcend the time the work was written and produced. The same issues remain today within the same real life characters drawn to this business which will be forever dysfunctional and self-destructive, which the below have captured with substantial truth.
The Entertainer (1960)
Laurence Olivier recreated his stage role of Archie Rice an old-time music hall performer in this excellent film adaptation of John Osborne’s stage play. Archie is strictly a third-rater, headlining a tacky music hall revue in a seedy seaside resort town, sinking personally into final defeat. Archie can’t admit that he’s a failure, and his grim insouciance destroys everyone around him, including his father a legendary music hall comedian Billy Rice (Roger Livesey).The film/play is set at the time of the Suez crisis. Osbourne wrote the play to reflect the downfall of Britain with Empire gone, looming economic problems a country looking back on itself. At the same time gave us a true insight into a character that is very much with alive in cabaret rooms and comedy clubs of today.
Broadway Danny Rose (1984)
Danny Rose is a hapless manager of low level cabaret artists, and although he’s not very successful, he nevertheless goes out of his way to help these untalented acts. One artiste Lou Canova, a singer has a chance of making a come-back, Danny gives everything to make this happen including fetching Lou’s mistress Tina, to Lou’s career making concert, arranged by Danny. This is where the problems occur as the innocent Agent and Tina are taken on an adventurous comic journey, avoiding hoods, kidnap and a psychic. Eventually making it to the concert, only to be told afterwards that Lou is leaving him.
Mr. Saturday Night (1992)
The film depicts the fictional life of self-descriptive comedian Buddy Young, a once comic legend and ego to match. The story is partially told in flashbacks but now Buddy’s an old man looking for work in the business. The film represents the character’s reflections on his life and career in brutal honesty and where many successful comedians actually end up.
King of Comedy (1982)
Aspiring comic Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro) wants to achieve success in show biz. We are given clues in the film to his dysfunctional background which is the driving force to become a somebody through stand-up comedy. He stalks his idol, a late night talk-show host (Jerry Lewis) who craves his own privacy and ends up kidnapping him to meet his ambitions.
Steven Gold (Tom Hanks) is a stand-up comedian who is flat broke and has recently dropped out of medical school. He and several others work regularly at the Gas Station, a New York comedy club. The wages are lousy and everybody hopes for the big break. Lilah Krytsick (Sally Field) is housewife with an ambition to be a stand-up comedian, however she doesn’t seem to have the talent. Steven takes her under his wings and teaches her the art of comedy and humour. But when a TV station arranges a comedy evening at the club, Steve sees his opportunity for fame and stardom. Their friendship seems quickly forgotten and now it’s every man and woman for him- or herself!
‘Comedians’ is a play by Trevor Griffiths, set in a Manchester evening class for aspiring working-class comedians. It went out on BBC Television under the ‘Play for Today’ banner in October 1979. However, it was first performed at the Nottingham Playhouse on 20 February 1975, in a production directed by Richard Eyre. The cast included Jonathan Pryce as the main character, Gethin Price, Stephen Rea and the comedian and music hall performer Jimmy Jewel as the teacher, subsequently played by Bill Fraser in the TV version. The play was well in front of its time dealing with political issues such as sexism and racism in comedy. Confronting the task of what it is to be a real comic. Four years after the play was first performed London’s Comedy Store was opened and an ‘alternative comedy’ boom was started, representing many of the issues contained within this profound play.
Based on the Broadway hit about the life and times of burlesque dancer Gypsy Rose Lee and her aggressive stage mother, Mama Rose. The musical is currently enjoying a revival in London’s West End. Mama Rose (Rosalind Russell) lives to see her daughter June succeed on Broadway by way of vaudeville. When June marries and leaves, Rose turns her hope and attention to her elder, less obviously talented, daughter Louise (Natalie Wood). However, having her headlining as a stripper at Minsky’s Burlesque is not what she initially has in mind, but she has to do it, so she can become a star.The film really reflects the many show business mothers / fathers that live their own lives through their own children and the disastrous consequences that nearly always occur.
Michael Keaton plays a washed up actor (Riggen Thompson) who tries to reclaim his fame on Broadway by investing, directing and co-producing a new play. The actor was best known for his former role as “Birdman”, and is trying to shake the association of himself with the Birdman superhero character, by branching out artistically in this new Broadway show. Throughout the film Riggen battles the voice of the ‘Birdman’ undermining his confidence when many troubles occur during the preview showings. With an eccentric cast of characters including a pretentious actor and Riggen’s fresh out of rehab daughter, he is able to confront his demons and put on a show no one will forget. The direction of the film gives us an exact focus and sense of true realism of back stage in many live theatres.
Introducing .. Janet (1983 TV movie)
Janet is an over-weight girl who has a knack for making the other children in school laugh…by making fun of her own weight. In seeing the other kids reaction, she feels that she might have what it takes to be a comedian. She visits the local comedy club where she finds Tony Moroni who is a struggling comedian whose jokes are less than funny. Together Tony helps Janet find self-esteem and Janet helps Tony with his material.
The story of acerbic 1960s comic Lenny Bruce, whose ground breaking, no-holds-barred style and social commentary was often deemed by the Establishment as too obscene for the public. Starring Dustin Hoffman.
Matthew Willetts MA is the Director of Comicus who has over 35 years experience in television, film, theatre, and comedy club/cabaret entertainment, working as a performer, screenwriter, producer and agent. He lectured at Southampton Solent University in Comedy, Screenwriting, Television, Theatre & Radio. Matthew can sometimes be seen and heard on TV & Radio and often quoted in the national press and media publications. As well as speaking regularly at festivals and industry conferences, he has been a judge at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Montreux Television Festival.