In the opening scene to The Comedy, a handful of grown men are wrestling and dry humping each other in slow motion to Donnie & Joe Emerson’s “Baby.” They’re in their underwear, piss drunk and spitting beer all over the room. This scene of debauchery sets the rhythm for the entire film, which focuses on unlovable losers who balance out the uninteresting world that surrounds them by way of alcohol, blasphemy, and anything that doesn’t require a lot of effort. The result is unbelievably entertaining.
Tim Heidecker (Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!) stars as Swanson, a wealthy 35-year-old bum who spends every night polluting his body with copious amounts of drugs and booze. During the daytime, he wanders around New York, pretending to work at places he doesn’t and obnoxiously mocking culture with his equally obnoxious friends. Swanson is a real go-getter who knows what he wants in life, which is, well, absolutely nothing. Except for a job as a busboy at a restaurant making minimum wage—this is the only thing outside of his comfort zone he really wants.
Swanson’s family inheritance is the reason he’s chosen his odd lifestyle–he never learned how to grow up normal. It’s also why his brother is locked up in a mental institution, and from the context clues given, his father was less than pleasant to them growing up. (This is probably why Swanson berates everyone he comes in contact with.) As Papa Swanson gets closer to death, Swanson gets closer to inheriting the leftover wealth, which he does not want. We know his hatred runs deep, because instead of living in the luxurious mansion where his father is being cared for, he’s lives in a tiny, uncomfortable motorboat that can only be reached by way of a little boat with a small engine.
There’s no one better to play this role than Heidecker. Swanson carries a lot of emotional weight and this character needs an actor who can smile while verbally abusing someone and pushing them to their limits. He also needs to be a man who can say the most shocking things without a hint of expression, things that would shock even punk rock legend GG Allin if he were alive today. After years of deadpan comedy, Heidecker knows how to deliver it in the strangest, yet most effective ways.
There is one scene that should be mentioned—it’s the only one that gives Swanson a hint of a soul. He’s wandering through a hospital and stumbles into a room where an elderly man lies in a coma. Swanson picks up a comb by his bedside and begins to brush his hair while talking to him gently. It’s eerily endearing.
Heidecker’s partner in crime Eric Warheim co-stars, and it’s no question that a majority of their scenes together were most likely improvised. These guys are masters at unconventional comedy, and you’ll quickly discover this watching a clip from Awesome Show, Great Job! on YouTube.
Acting for the first time in a film is LCD Soundsystem’s frontman, James Murphy, who co-stars as one of Swanson’s misfit friends. Murphy gets Tim and Eric’s bizarre and unpredictable humor and plays along with it. Being that this is his first role and he’s able to hold his own next to the duo, it’s safe to say playing a convincing actor made the list of things to happen in Murphy’s life.
When this premiered at Sundance in January, a lot of people walked out. It’s not your typical comedy, and this is co-writer/director Rick Alverson’s sharp intention—he understands dark comedy inside and out.
You shouldn’t laugh at most of the things that happen in The Comedy, but you will. It’s a cruel world, but laughing at others’ expense is an immature and real way people handle everyday life. Much like the protagonist, The Comedy is a brilliant odyssey that most people will hate. Fortunately, I am not one of those people.