The Comedy is a chilling warning sign to current and future generations.
You all knew that one guy, the FUNNY guy. He was always cracking jokes and making the big laughs, finding a particular amount of joy in ironic humor. The irony would sometimes go too far, to the point that it maybe affected his appearance, his home, or his behavior in serious situations. You might even say the irony began to consume him to the point that you never knew if he was being genuine or not, but suspected he never really was. Well what if that person continued down that path into their mid-30s?
That is what The Comedy is about
The Comedy, directed by Rick Alverson, has no real narrative. There’s no character development, no over-arching story, no twists and turns. The Comedy is a very dark, almost quiet character study of one man whose life has become so consumed with comedic insincerity that we are never shown who he REALLY is throughout the film. Tim Heidecker (Tim and Eric) takes this role to astounding heights as he plays an over-privileged man in his mid-30s who coasts through life, doing and saying things to be “funny” because, frankly, he’s bored.
This film experienced a staggering number of walkouts when it debuted at Sundance earlier this year, and I found myself initially confused as to why. I was captivated the entire time, unable to look away as I watched a sad sliver of the life of a man who clearly knew he had taken his personality to an extreme that there was no backing out of. I knew a lot of people who shared the traits of Heidecker’s character, and saw the film as a grim but accurate depiction of where that lifestyle takes you.
The more I watched it, the more I understood that many people probably walked out because they had never experienced anyone like Tim Heidecker’s character, and assumed that he was either genuine or that his character was being glorified just because the director didn’t shove it down the viewers’ throats that this man has severe issues. His (mostly) improvised conversations with strangers and similar-minded friends go into disturbing territory – things like prolapsed rectums, the Oklahoma City bombing, and rape are subject matters discussed lightly and humorously. On the surface, someone could view this film as a comedic romp about a funny dude and his funny pals cracking shock-humor jokes and performing stunts on the same level as the Jackass crew. But even the slightest understanding of this particular personality type turns the content on its head, as you see that this is what he finds funny, and this is how he is ALL THE TIME. It’s left to the viewer to simply observe.
There’s never a moment of honesty or sincerity in Tim Heidecker’s words in The Comedy. Even serious issues involving his father’s death and his brother’s mental condition, when discussed with his sister-in-law, skirt around the issue to the point that the line or two of almost-sincere dialog masked by ironic behavior come across as shocking. In scenes where Heidecker is by himself, you see a man with a somber look on his face, bored with the world around him. It’s these moments of silence where you’re really left to wonder about this man – is he truly happy? Is he angry and bitter? Is he sad? The blank expression tells any number of stories, all of which could be true.
What really sealed this film for me, though, was seeing Heidecker interact with his friends. Played by frequent collaborators Eric Wareheim, Gregg Turkington (AKA Neil Hamburger) and James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem, Heidecker’s pals are just as frightening and disturbing as our leading man. When they get together as friends, you see that Heidecker’s lifestyle isn’t an isolated incident – it’s an epidemic. People like this are everywhere. They hang out in packs. And with the direction our youth is headed, this type of behavior is only going to be more frequent. Seeing Tim in a group of wealthy, responsibility-free, irony-laden guys takes this film from being a mere character study and turns it into a cultural study. And it’s not pretty.
The Comedy shows what happens when you become detached from reality — be it through irony and humor, wealth and freedom, or this startling combination of it all – insincerity and no responsibility can have terrifying and sad results. The behavior of Heidecker and his friends is alarming and will only become more common as the current and future generations change alongside our culture, and The Comedy shows that there might not be any turning back.