I’m Dying Up Here

Showtime, Sundays at 10 PM

Jun 09, 2017 Web Exclusive
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Standup comedy is a solo enterprise, a baring of confession and observation from an individual who has had a chance to process the trickiness of life and parse common threads of truth that people can relate to, and laugh about. Confidence is placed in strangers of the crowd, about love life, family life, current affairsthe things that people can connect to their own experience. And yet, the lifestyle and daily working practice of standup is quite particularly relatable only to fellow comedians. The often gutting pursuit of recognition, the competition, the insecurities, and misfortunes that cause pain before they are reflected upon and spun into humor, much of this is hidden behind the spotlight.

Showtime's new adapted series, I'm Dying Up Here, brings to light these private aspects of standup comedians with an intimacy that substantiates their public lives as performers. Based on William Knoedelseder's best selling book about the golden age of stand up comedy in the mid 1970s, the incisively written and powerfully performed premiere episode is actually more dramatic than comedic, immersive in pulling you into a very specific milieu of the Los Angeles comedy club circuit at a defining time and with surprising poignancy.

Exploring the maxim that there's no comedy without tragedy, show creator David Flebotte begins with the sudden death of a rising star in a group of young comedians, which immediately and unexpectedly sets the dramatic tone. The shocking occurrence allows for an emotional dimension for the characters left in its wake to locate and also gives their humor sharper teeth.

Greater depth comes from the visceral re-fabrication of the world in and around the nightclub where they all perform, seeking their big breaks. Especially in the way this tight knit world is illustrated and the camaraderie examined, an absorbing novelty akin to films like Punchlinewhich once solidified Tom Hanks' dramatic range in his role as a hustling standupcirculates through the initial storyline.

Flebotte shares writing duties with a host of others through the continuation of the series, including Jim Carrey, who is all in on the project as the executive producer as well. Not to be underestimated is the talent a writer must have to supply material for actors playing comedians in such a culturally specific time and place. The lines can't just be funny, they have to be historically appropriate and aligned with the characters they are written for and this is executed with both grit and tenderness by the young cast, some of whom are actual standups.

Then there is the reinforcing presence of Melissa Leo as the owner of the comedy club that is the central setting and Alfred Molina as a talent manager. They both reliably lead with venerable class. 

In an ever expanding field of television series to invest in, I'm Dying Up Here appears to have legs, rewarding in its elucidation of what people intuitively know about comedythat the laughs that go beyond a giggle are the ones that come from discomfort and pain. They're the ones closest to tears. (www.sho.com/im-dying-up-here)

Author rating: 8.5/10

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