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'Comedian' goes on the road with Seinfeld

Friday, November 01, 2002

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Even the giants get heckled now and then. When Jerry Seinfeld, returning to stand-up comedy after retiring his old material, loses his train of thought, a woman in the audience pipes up: "Is this your first gig?" Yeah, and Seinfeld is just another jokester you get to see for your two-drink minimum.


RATING: R for language

STARRING: Jerry Seinfeld

DIRECTOR: Christian Charles

WEB SITE: www.miramax.com/comedian


Yada yada yada
A Q&A with Seinfeld

Local movie showtimes


Welcome to "Comedian," a fascinating, funny and fast-paced documentary that follows Seinfeld for 14 months as he returns to small clubs on both coasts and in between to build a new act. We watch him go from a couple of comic bits to enough for a full-fledged concert.

Just as we always knew Mary Richards was going to make it after all, we know Seinfeld will (just ask the people who answered the Heinz Hall phones), but the journey is bumpier than you might imagine. Seinfeld doesn't bare his soul, but he provides a rare window into the construction of an act and what the other comedians, such as Chris Rock or elder statesman Bill Cosby, talk about backstage.

Seinfeld is contrasted with a 30-year-old performer named Orny Adams who is so egotistical yet so needy and hungry for approval that when he wins a berth at a Montreal comedy festival, he spends four minutes being happy. Then he announces, "Now I'm miserable again."

Seinfeld has nights when he pronounces his set "lou-sy, lou-sy" and wonders how big a comic you have to be before the audience will shut up. Still, traveling by private jet, he's not exactly living like a starving novice.

Although Seinfeld shares a credit as producer, which leaves open the question of whether he insisted other unflattering moments be excised (the filmmakers say no), he comes across as a nice guy who is obliging to strangers and tender toward his wife and baby girl, shown briefly.

"Comedian" was shot with mini-digital video cameras by director Christian Charles and producer Gary Streiner. Their footage, 600 hours whittled to 81 minutes, was transferred to film although the resulting movie has the intimacy of guerrilla filmmaking, with low light and a few words lost in the din.

This was never designed to be a documentary about Seinfeld the man, but I kept wishing for more glimpses of Seinfeld the husband and dad. And the device of the dual storylines can be jarring; just as you settle into Orny's tortured existence, it's back to Jerry, but the Adams-Seinfeld-Cosby arc is perfect.

The filmmakers successfully disappear into the background, and credit should go to editor Chris Franklin for setting the mood with music -- as when a jazzy version of "My Favorite Things" accompanies old clips of Richard Pryor. After "Comedian," you'll never look at performers making their debuts on late-night TV in quite the same way.

Landing in the Midwest, Seinfeld quips, "I should be in St. Bart's," but you know that, in this case, he'd rather be in Cleveland.

Barbara Vancheri can be reached at bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632.

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