While I still love my genre films and rom-com flicks, in recent years, there’s been another genre that has been taking a strong interest in my lexicon of favourites, documentaries.
Granted, it has to be a subject I like, for example, music. Dave Grohl has directed two of my favourites being Sound City (the story of the infamous recording studio that has had bands like Fleetwood Mac, Rick Springfield, Tom Petty, Nirvana, to name but a few). Then there’s Foo Fighters: Sonic Highways (a series that follows the making of the album of the same name as they tour certain studios and learn the music of that state).
Recently you had The Last Dance on Netflix, covering the 90s era Chicago Bulls. Now joining that list is the terrific five-part docu-series, The Comedy Store.
I found it by accident late last year. I began watching as I knew the venue by name only, following certain comics on Instagram. I was amazed by how many people came out of there like Jim Carrey, Michael Keaton, David Letterman, Jimmy Carr, Marc Maron, Whoopi Goldberg, Chris Rock, Eddie Murphy, Robin Williams, to name but a few.
It also introduced me to Bill Burr, Sam Kinison, Brian Holtzman, Joey Diaz, Whitney Cummings and Joe Rogan, as a comic and not just the bloke who did the UFC and got this podcasting empire.
I’ve just finished my rewatch, and I love it more than the first time I saw it.
It’s interesting to learn history because while it’s the mecca for comedians across America, it holds less holy grail status outside the States. However, watching this doc, you can see why it draws so many just by the legacy of names, and it gets no more prominent than the Mount Rushmore icon, Richard Pryor.
The love that everyone shows this man is lovely to see, and it has made me interested in seeing his special, currently on Netflix, because some of the stuff shown is brilliant. The same can be said about Kinison. After my first viewing, I went to YouTube to check him out, and it was funny.
As well as the history, you get funny stories of the behind the scenes with everyone having their antidote about store owner, Mitzi Shore, and it’s clear that loved her as a high figure. I can’t use the word mother because it’s clear, and this is addressed briefly, she was sleeping with multiple comics, and I feel weird using that word.
It is clear everyone, and literally everyone, loves Mizti because she’s the reason for a lot of them became household names.
The five-parter isn’t just a love letter. Director Mike Binder (a Comedy Store vet himself) goes into the darker areas like the deaths of the Store’s first significant breakout, Freddie Prinze.
The stories from those around the time are mental. Like Jimmy Walker, who reveals Prinze once went to John Travolta’s apartment and tried to kill him with a crossbow, and they show proof with the police report.
The stories from the final moments of both lives are incredible, especially Kinison’s, as Carl Labove told. This story doesn’t hide the fact when you hear stories from those years, Kinison was a shitty person.
I wish they did a whole episode of these cautionary tales because Robin Williams isn’t really talked about throughout the series and the subject of mental illness was barely mentioned. Now maybe that’s because the older guys are like, “there wasn’t any, besides Prinze”, but comedy has a long history with depression, and the new top talent or upcomers can learn from the past.
What is done so perfectly is Roger Nygard’s editing and the natural flow of the story and different subjects. We see how becoming a big name worked by going on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Carson and then the rise and importance of podcasts with Rogan leading the way.
It’s surprising how Netflix doesn’t get mentioned considering how many comics featured have their own special on the streaming service and how that has impacted their careers.
I wish they had at least three or five more episodes just to hear more stories and spend time on other subjects like mental illness, the dark days of 1994-2012, experiences of women and racism at the store and comedy and social media.
What we did get is a wonderful insight into the culture of American comedy and how it all worked behind the scenes. A true love letter to the place they call home, and I’ll be rewatching it again and again.
The Comedy Store is on Sky Documentaries, via Now TV, where you can binge.