While it sounds like a documentary about stand-up, Jamie Kennedy’s Heckler focuses on criticism in general and ties it with what’s becoming an ubiquitous desire of everyone to be in the spotlight. At 75 minutes, it’s far too short to cover the subject, but there’s a fair amount of threads of the phenomena explored.
There are two inspirations for Kennedy in making the documentary:
- the heckler as the seeming inescapable part of being a stand-up
- the reviews of his film Son of the Mask, which aren’t just artistically stinging but also personally derogatory even calling for his death.
Stand-up, because of its intimate nature, is naturally the perfect place to examine why people want to aggressively overshadow others’ talent. There’s no other medium where direct resistance and rejection of an artist’s ideas is possible. And when the jokes are rejected, it feels like a personal rejection and often intended as one.
There’s a lot of videos of infamous heckling here and If you’ve spent any time on YouTube, you might recognize much of it. Included are the video where a comic gets punched by a politically correct patron, the one where the comic hits a heckler with a guitar and, of course, the Michael Richards meltdown of last year. There’s also more than a little joy to be had in hearing comics talk their experiences with hecklers and even some surprising confessions of hecklers’ effects – such as David Cross admitting he considered quitting stand-up for a time.
However, a good deal of the film focuses on Jamie Kennedy’s sit-down with critics of his films. Jamie does have a good point here… so much of criticism is now an excuse for a writer to shit all not so much the work, but the creator. If it’s criticism, it should be an honest assessment of the work without getting into whether the artist deserves to draw breath.
But in Kennedy’s confrontations with critics that thought gets lost, mostly because Kennedy trying to discount the destractor’s credibility by demonstrating their nerdiness or lack of sexual experience. He repeats the same error: knocking down the man, not the work. Anyone can have an opinion about a film, but can he justify why a critic can say that Kennedy should never been born?
At Friday’s premiere screening, Kennedy mentioned that he doesn’t think the film he seems to be defending is that good. I think this admission would be great to have in the film in some way, because it would help put the focus back on the point at hand: why call me a rape baby?
The man who called Kennedy that is probably the best illustration of what most criticism is and why it probably shouldn’t be taken personally. His name is Peter Grumbine and in his confrontation with Kennedy he’s unrepentant – at one point while Kennedy reads a part of Grumbine’s review that mentions he should be dragged behind a truck, Grumbine nonchalantly nods his head in agreement. Grumbine revels in playing the villain for Kennedy here, eagerly telling him that he enjoys pissing off celebs like Jamie. He even has the appropriate facial hair for the role.
I’m actually friendly with Peter Grumbine and what the film doesn’t mention, and perhaps should, is the Peter is a stand-up himself. Letting people in on that would illustrate that criticism has become entertainment itself, following many of the same rhythms a stand-up comic has when he’s making fun of Paris Hilton or George Bush on stage. In a world where anyone could be star, everything we write is an audition for the spotlight.