Misery Loves Comedy (2 stars)

Misery Loves Comedy

EIFF 2015: Comedians get serious about being funny in Kevin Pollak's directorial debut

Best known as an actor and comedian, Kevin Pollak (The Usual Suspects) steps behind the camera for a documentary that takes a serious look at being funny. He speaks to over 60 colleagues and friends from the world of comedy, asking them everything from how their parents influenced their work to probing the addictive nature of performing to a crowd. The question inherent in the film's title – do you need to be miserable to be a good comedian? – is left until the very last segment, which is a shame, because it's by far the most interesting angle.

Despite the few Brits in the lineup – Steve Coogan, Stephen Merchant and Rob Brydon all get a look in – this is very much an American affair. Among the many stand-ups, comedy writers and actors featured are a few big hitters: Judd Apatow, Jimmy Fallon and Amy Schumer pop up, as does Martin Short, Bob Saget and Friends' Lisa Kudrow and Matthew Perry.

Some of the funniest moments come from Christopher Guest and, unexpectedly, Tom Hanks; Larry David's blink-and-you'll-miss-it appearance is effortlessly amusing too. But Misery Loves Comedy is at its most engrossing when it's tackling 'misery' head on: Freddie Prinze Jr's candid discussion of his comedian father's suicide is easily the film's most powerful moment.

Overall, what we get is a relentless conveyer belt of talking heads, earnestly dissecting their profession. But the lack of female and black voices here means this never feels like an authentic or inclusive picture of what it's like to make laughter your living. One for die-hard comedy geeks only – and maybe a cautionary tale for those aspiring to work in the biz.

Screening on Thu 25 and Sat 27 Jun as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2015. Selected release from Fri 11 Sep.

Misery Loves Comedy

  • 2 stars
  • 2015
  • 1h 34min
  • Directed by: Kevin Pollak
  • Cast: Kevin Pollak/Tom Hanks/Matthew Perry/Rob Brydon/Stephen Merchant/Steve Coogan/Jimmy Fallon/Jon Favreau/Lisa Kudrow
  • UK release: 21 August 2015

Actor and comedian Pollak speaks to over 60 colleagues and friends about the nature of stand-up comedy. There are some funny moments, but the general lack of female, black and/or non-American voices means that this never feels nearly authentic or inclusive enough.