Review: When Stand-Up Stood Out

Filed Under Stand-Up Comedy

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.

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Comments

Posted by Mike on 07/28  at  05:28 AM

I caught this movie recently, and if I were a better writer, I’d have given this same review.  From a historic and cultural standpoint of stand-up, this was a well-made movie.  Listening to the comics reminisce had a 60s-in-Haight kinda feel to it, very entertaining.  What struck me is how much the quality of stand-up has evolved over the last generation.  Listening to the content of the routines from the archival footage, it was very hacky by today’s standards.  I would submit that that is a testament to their influence; so many subsequent comedians leeched off their innovative formula that it quickly became same-old, and I had to constantly shake off that unfair natural criticism.  It’s not the type of movie that’s gonna win many awards, but for the comedy crowd this is up there with Comedian, though lagging a little behind The Aristocrats and Comedians of Comedy. 


Watching Wright literally dumbstruck after being called over by Johnny Carson is itself worth renting this, if not Kenny Moore (I think) assaulting a heckler with a guitar.  Not sure what Garofalo was in there for either, maybe just to sell it to the mainstream.  If anything, David Cross would’ve been a better contemporary analyst, even though he’s more sketch than stand-up.  On that topic, I wasn’t impressed with Dane Cook’s take on it, but I have a bias against him.  The special feature “making-of” piece was worth catching too.

Posted by Mike on 07/28  at  07:32 AM

After narcissistically re-reading my post, I realized I duplicated Todd’s observation about Wright’s reaction to being called over by Carson…my apologies (damn you Todd, get out of my head!).

Posted by C Ray on 04/28  at  03:36 PM

Guess you had to have been there to appreciate it more.

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