The roots of comedy in Boston run deep now. But the film When Stand Up Stood Outattempts to share how that scene began and exploded, a story that’s almost endemic of the first stand-up boom of the late 70s / early 80s. First the community of people performing for joy, the surprise that their love of the form could lead to a career and then the jealousy, addictions and, ultimately, swing-a-dead-cat ubiquity that drove it down.
Boston is the perfect place to tell this story from, as showbiz wasn’t a big part of the town prior to the boom. At one point director and stand-up Fran Solomita points out how huge the stand-up boom was by demonstrating where four stand-up clubs stood at one intersection. The fact that none of them is there is testament to how far we are from that era.
When Stand Up Stood Out is best is when it focuses on the Ding Ho – a Chinese restaurant and comedy club combo which plays as the epicenter for the groundswell for a diverse range of talent from Steven Wright to Lenny Clarke. Many early performances from that stage thread throughout, demonstrating the rougher roots of stand-up performance that would unfortunately get smoothed out into the parody of stand-up that came later. (It’s good that they were place into the film – many of the tapes dissolved after digitizing.)
Best of all is detailing the roots of Steven Wright, who seems truly innocent of the possibilities for his current stardom. The footage from the Tonight Show of his first appearance and his subsequent call over the couch by Johnny Carson is reason enough to check out the DVD. Footage of Kevin Meaney (!) wandering the streets and pulling random passersby into shows is not to be missed either.
The film sometimes seems unfocused – the reason for the inclusion of Janeane Garofalo is tenuous at best as much of her career began post boom – but when it returns to the beginning with Lenny Clarke castigating crowds at the Ding Ho, it’s an informative and entertaining experience for stand-up fans.
For more on “When Stand Up Stood Out” check out their website.