Filmmaker and comedian Jordan Brady’s second documentary I Am Road Comic shines a large spotlight on the rough edges of being a road comic. It also emphasizes the creative molding that takes place when weeks, even months, are spent traveling around the country to hone your talent.
In Brady’s film, he emerges from a 20-year stand up hiatus to join fellow comedians Wayne Federman and Seth Milstein on the road to Kennewick, Washington where he will feature at a club called Jack Didley’s. The trip serves less of a career jumpstart for Brady than it does an opportunity to see Wayne Federman, a seasoned veteran, and Seth Milstein, a fairly new comedian, deal with the challenges of the road.
We quickly learn Jack Didley’s is less of a comedy club than it is a club with a tiny stage and a history of violence.
Federman, Brady and Milstein are not entirely sure what to expect besides knowing this small location, unlike major cities, may not be so open to their jokes. Small club owners don’t pay much either. We are taken on a crash course learning how a comic can save the money earned before they head back home–Jordan Brady indulges in bringing back buffet items to the motel room he’s sharing with Seth Milstein.
During the stay at the motel, the most enticing part of I Am Road Comic is hit upon. Seth Milstein calls his family at home and explains to the camera it totally sucks to be away from his wife and kids but they fully support his dream. Later in the film, Milstein will reveal one of his most satisfying moments was when his kids admitted to thinking he was funny. In the same moment he relates feeling like he is part of the inner circle of comedians, now that he has taken his first trip on the road, allowing his comedy to be shaped by people outside of friends, family and locals.
Jordan Brady weaves this real life sentiment throughout I Am Road Comic by interviewing various comedians such as Marc Maron, W. Kamau Bell, TJ Miller, Maria Bamford and Doug Benson. Maron warns against becoming too hardened by the road and running the risk of your comedy turning overly rambunctious for a more mainstream crowd. Conversely, Doug Benson had a hard time finding anything wrong with the road at all. Each comedian had a different least favorite part of traveling for their craft, but they all agreed it is the perfect atmosphere to develop new material.
The road offers a certain mystery for comedians; even those who have a significant fan base are able to pull their performer mask tighter around their set since most road audiences have probably had limited interaction with them.
Wayne Federman speaks briefly about being recognized from shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm, but he discards this recognition to flesh out new jokes or try new approaches to old sets. Stand up comedy begs for the comedian to balance the fine line between niche topics and generalities like marriages and current events. What most of us don’t see are how the comedians’ lives become part of the act.
Jordan Brady captures married comics describing compromises they’ve had to make to hold their careers together, how some comics deal with the distractions of sex and free drinks while working and whether or not certain types of acts work together on the same show bill. All of this culminates in one of Brady’s central ideas:
While stand up comedy appears to be a one person act, many audiences have helped dictate which direction a comedian will take their set next.
As the film circles back in the final minutes to Jack Didley’s, each comedian takes a stab at a backhanded compliment for the club and city of Kennewick, despite the club’s bad reputation. Federman, Brady and Milstein all do well that night, but the three come away with different experiences. Milstein feels validated as a comic. Federman laughs the atmosphere off as just another show. Brady vows it’ll be the last time he goes on the road again.
Undoubtedly, each show will come with highs and lows but they are all necessary to build a tried and true comic’s voice.
Check out the trailer:
Lauren Mack: Co-founder of The Well Written Woman is an aspiring writer, blogger, and overall enthusiast of brainstorms. She is a graduate of Flagler College with a BA in English Literature and has no intentions to teach. Lauren spends a lot of time reading novels and hoping she can one day finish her own. She often wonders how they made blue cheese so delicious. Really, she is just imposing her elitist attitude on everyone. You can follow her on Twitter.