Showtime's new series, I'm Dying Up Here kicked off to little fanfare on Saturday with the release of it's premiere episode. To be honest I'd forgotten that Ace Venture Pet Detective star Jim Carry was executive producing a series about the early 70's rise of the modern stand-up comedy era until I saw it spotlighted in the Showtime app. And that's kind of a surprise since I've been watching Twin Peaks I would have expected that Showtime would have been beating the drum around this a bit more.
It's billed as a dramedy, but at least by the end of the first episode, it's far more of a drama (or at least a black comedy). The settings, clothing, and vibe of the episode very much captures that of the early 70's, but the characters take a while to start to click with the viewer. There's one scene towards the end of the episode where comedian Casse Feder (played by Bad Teacher's Ari Graynor) is flailing around on stage – the audience really wants to get where she's going with her story, but it's just not quite clicking. But then in the nick of time, she finds her groove and it starts to come together. That's a great parallel for the pacing of the episode.
The series is loosely based on the book of the same name by William Knoedelseder, who was a cub reporter for the Los Angeles Times and covered the evolving comedy culture. Centering around a comedy club modeled after the Comedy Store, lorded over by owner Goldie (played by Wayward Pine's Melissa Leo) who is the maker or breaker in their world, occasionally tapping a lucky soul to be offered up to appear on the newly Burbank-based Tonight Show with Johnny Carson (Dylan Baker) where five minutes would mean a golden ticket to tours and casting agents. While some make it to that lofty heights, most struggle through, working go-nowhere jobs so they can have their 15 minutes on a stage (without pay).
There names that are known today orbiting around the periphery, and the series characters can see them, and are desperately trying to rise as well. However some that get the opportunity, don't know what to do next once it comes – and a tragedy surrounding one such comedian is what drives the action in the episode. There's awkward scenes of a group of individuals who are all grieving, but the only way they know how to express it is through comedy – and they're self conscious about that, but have no other real outlet.
Carrey helped inject many of his own experiences into the narrative threads. When two would-be comics travel from Boston to Los Angeles to find their hoped-for chance vanishing before them, they wind up rending a room – and by room, it's a walk-in closet that also hosts the cat's litter box. That experience of living in a closer was one of Carrey's. He came up in the Canadian comedy clubs only slightly after the events in the series, but was being influenced by what had happened in L.A.
Clark Duke plays one half of the hapless pair from Boston, and it's good to see him get a chance to go more dramatic than we've seen him before. I definitely think he's actually got a lot more to offer and hopefully this will give other casting directors incentive to tap him for a wider range.
Even if the series tightens up in future episodes, it's probably not a "killer app" – meaning that few people would probably subscribe to Showtime just to see I'm Dying Up here. However it has potential to get viewers, but it'll need to pick a few of it's large cast of characters and give them time to breath and connect with their audience. Otherwise it'll be too easy to skip an episode on the assumption that we won't miss anything. And just like classes in college, once you skip it once, it's easier to rationalize skipping it again. And suddenly you realize that you just stopped.
It's worth a watch, especially if you like (Hedwig might say) early late 20th-century period dramas, just know going in that like watching a slow to get started comedian, you might need to just stick with it a bit, and we'll see if it comes together in the end.
If you want to check out the original book, here's the Amazon link below:
[amazon_link asins='1610398661' template='ProductCarousel' store='bleedingcoo07-20' marketplace='US' link_id='80fa87df-48f1-11e7-bb3e-e1dfa3b394eb']