Plot Summary: This offbeat documentary starring comedian Jamie Kennedy explores the often contentious relationship between the stand-up performers onstage and the vocal critics in the audience. Interviews include comedian Bill Maher and director George Lucas.
Director: Michael Addis
Additional Cast: Louie Anderson, Dave Attell, David Cross, Craig Ferguson, Larry Flynt, Judah Friedlander
Serious Jest: (Must Watch) This documentary heavily influenced me in the inception of Live from the ManCave. I even wrote a Critic’s Manifesto, in which I resolved not to be one of those douchebags that just tries to make himself feel good by trashing artists without even explaining what I found bad about their product.
The film begins by focusing on hecklers, as the term is generally used: people who attend live performances, like a stand-up comedy show, and attempt to interrupt the performers and shift the attention to themselves. I think an overwhelming amount of the public will agree that those people are annoying and in the wrong. Nobody is there to see the heckler. If you don’t enjoy the performance, don’t clap, don’t smile, or simply leave…but don’t interrupt everyone else’s experience. Live-performance hecklers are like the ugly girl who cockblocks her friends at a party because nobody’s talking to her. I enjoy seeing good comedians rip those people apart…and here’s a secret: the guy with the mic will usually win that battle.
The brunt of this documentary, however, focuses on extending the term “heckler” to critics in general, including movie reviewers. To that end, Kennedy confronts people who have written scathing reviews about him, effectively demonstrating that they focus more on creatively bashing him than actually explaining why they don’t like his projects or offering constructive criticism. He also points out that many of these individuals appear to be people whom you probably wouldn’t want to have a conversation with, let alone take movie advice from them.
Several of the performers interviewed make the point that most critics haven’t ever produced a successful piece of performance art themselves. I respect that argument for the concept that reviewers should be sensitive to the fact that producing creative material is not easy. However, I would counter that I don’t need to be a chef to tell you that something doesn’t taste good to me. I may not have a “refined palate,” but for people who like the kind of movies I like, like the way I think, or otherwise relate to me, my opinion may actually be useful, despite whether the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences agrees with me. I mean, who the hell makes up AMPAS anyway?
Kennedy and his diverse cast of performers also discuss how the internet has empowered a slew of people to take cheap shots at artists from the safety of anonymity. He compares the internet to a big bathroom wall, where anyone can just write whatever they want. I agree that it’s much easier to rip someone mercilessly when you don’t have to face them. On the other hand, as some of the cast acknowledged, a review that actually intelligently identifies what the critic sees as flaws in the performance can be a very valuable learning tool for the artist. Kennedy just ponders why “you had to add a little extra bit of cocksuckery.”
Personally, I like the fact that we no longer have to rely on a select group of “published” individuals to tell us what’s good and what isn’t. A site like Rotten Tomatoes is very useful because it aggregates the opinions of critics as a percentage of likes versus dislikes, and distinguishes them from the opinion of the site users at large. It’s a good starting point for determining whether you want to spend your valuable time watching a particular movie…but if you trust the opinion of a particular person, because you relate to him or her in some way, or because they have a good track record of recommendations, that can be even more useful. We at Live from the ManCave hope to be those reviewers for you, and we’re thankful that the internet allows us to bypass all of the obstacles to voicing our opinions that existed just a couple of decades ago.
Moreover, the same medium that allows anybody to voice their opinion about art also allows any aspiring artist to bypass the old obstacles to publishing their art. For example, before the internet, talented artists had to court the attention of A&Rs to get people to listen to their material. A select group of people decided what music the public at large got to hear, and if one of them wasn’t having a good day, your song might get tossed before the first beat of the first track reached a speaker. Nowadays, you can post your song directly to a social media site and let the people determine for themselves whether they like it. “Shares” and “Likes” are easy to count. A&Rs can’t ignore someone with a million Twitter followers.
The film also acknowledges that artists ultimately control how criticism affects them. The point is driven home that artists are people, and like any individuals who throw maximum effort and hope into their projects, their feelings are going to be hurt when that project is negatively reviewed. However, as many of the interviewed performers state, artists have to acknowledge the intelligent criticism, discard the useless insults, be strong enough to brush negativity off their shoulders, and keep doing what they love with maximum effort. It may not be easy to do, but it’s what you have to do if you want to be successful. Once the critics sense a particular weakness or sensitivity, the sharks will come feasting for blood, and it won’t get any easier, as Kanye West has discovered the hard way.
Regardless of on what side of the foregoing controversy your opinion falls, this documentary does a good job of highlighting the issues in an entertaining way, and provoking thoughtful conversation on the subject. The film is well-edited, fast-paced, and generally interesting. While it definitely seems to be biased against the hecklers and critics, some of the interviews are not always a clear-cut win for Kennedy. The documentary appears to be kind of tongue-in-cheek, as Kennedy often acts sensitive and whiny when receiving criticism, but the film is also edited as to poke fun at him. In the end, you realize that he gets it. Don’t be hatin’.