Created and performed by Joel Straley | Review by Prarthana Mitra
In this pithy mockumentary about a failed stand-up comedian, filmmaker Joel Straley exercises full creative freedom in writing, visualizing and performing his routine as the “loudest comedian of the 80s.” However, it is not founded entirely on spectacle and provocative parody but shines the brightest when it doesn’t try too hard.
Packed with irreverent jokes about urinal cakes, cocaine and fellatio, the film veers gently into non-fiction in terms of its presentation and allusions, while telling a burlesque make-believe tale about the hedonisms of a washed-up artist.
An actor, writer, and filmmaker based in New York City, Straley who plays the titular role channels, Andy Kaufman, embodying an antithesis of the legendary comedian who constantly blurred the lines between reality and performance. In essence, however, Straley’s character is more akin to former Vine star Casey Frey who has recently struck meme glory. These two references, I believe, exemplify the struggles of Straley’s jester – how comedians have also strived to set themselves apart.
The 59-year-old, once engaged in a search for what makes for topical humor in the eighties, has now discovered that it is vastly different from what people find funny today. And when you add Straley’s histrionics to this half-serious search for artistic excellence and devolution into lewd and inappropriate jokes, you know you are getting a rejected Netflix special.
Self-absorbed, indulgent and irreverent, Straley portrays the middle-aged artist past his prime who has clearly never outgrown the drugs and gambling scene of the eighties. The all-too-familiar note of ironic self-aggrandizement can be traced as the camera follows the seedy hotels and casinos of Las Vegas where the loudest comedian of the eighties returns in present-day to jump-start his career.
As far as the narrative goes, his agent has clearly pulled out all the stops to get him an audition for a Netflix show. But as the film progresses, we learn that he lives up to his true reputation and predictably enough, fails to make it. While the audience follows his misadventures and reckless spending in Vegas, Straley also infuses stock characters from that bygone era into the mix. Strangely enough, some of them, like the aging agent, the condescending studio executive, and the all-knowing business tycoon, exist in these exact specs in certain pockets of American society even today.