Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor, Tim Allen, Steve Martin, Albert Brooks, and Adam Sandler may have made it look easy, but the shift from stand-up stardom to movie stardom is obviously anything but simple. Bert Kreischer, Sebastian Maniscalco, Jo Koy, and even Bill Burr with a new film he’s made have all had a bumpy jump from the gate into the movie world. This is a group that is filling arenas and halls, theaters, motorways, and sometimes stadiums with paid fans hanging on their every word. They are the cream of the crop of today’s comedy culture, but Sebastian, Bert, and Jo couldn’t lure most, if any, of their core crowd into the movie houses, and Burr couldn’t scare up a theatrical deal on his first film, “Old Dads”, after shopping it all over town, which, by the way, I’ve seen, and it is nowhere near a bad film.
When Pryor, Murphy, Martin, Tim Allen, and Sandler, and even Kevin Hart were filling movie theaters, the industry was very different. The movie business, for them, was a direct step up from the touring circuit, almost a rite of passage. A comedian’s success in the film industry was an affirmation of their status in the world of comedy. A hit movie was the ultimate validation, the comedy world’s equivalent of an Olympic gold medal. Today, the entertainment industry has so many other platforms to showcase talent. There’s no longer just one path to success. Platforms like YouTube, Netflix, and HBO have given modern stand-up comedians the chance to deliver their material directly to their fans. They have more control over their content, more creative freedom, and the ability to build a successful career without the necessity of a hit film. Yet, they still want it. They still see it as a mountain that needs climbing.
Here’s the rub. Here’s my theory as to why all four of these movies weren’t hits, why all four of them didn’t sell, why the comics from another time, even the recent past, were different as filmmakers, why all four of these stand-ups need to get to the plate again, what they need to do to make great movies if that’s what they want to do.
I may piss some of them off, I may be wrong. Who knows? I hope not, that’s not the goal, not at all. It’s to look at the craft, to learn, to help you understand it, to help me. To maybe help them.
First off, it’s harder than it looks to make a great movie. That’s a given. When you’re in an era where people aren’t going on a consistent basis, you better give them a reason to go. The whole point of all the arena and comedy concert sales is that the studios and the networks have abdicated comedies. Given up on them. They used to release several a weekend. Now they release a few a year and they mostly suck because the studios are all big companies, and have to follow woke corporate cleansed diversified, friendly, p.c., bullshit color between the lines rules, and comedy that does that isn’t comedy, it’s garbage.
So they gave up even bothering making them, but, Covid in the past, people need to go out and laugh, so they go to clubs and concerts. They’re back in movies now, and yes, it’s all thanks to Nicole Kidman and her ad for AMC theaters, but whatever the reason, people are back at theaters, so, if you’re making a movie, it better be great if you want to win. Want to stand out. Back when Adam Sandler made “Billy Madison” as his debut, he could A) keep it in theaters for almost a year after a pretty just okay six-million-dollar opening, and B) Get another film made. It wasn’t a do or die thing. Studios and companies wanted to build careers. Understood it took a beat.
NOW / THE MACHINE
I love Bert Kreischer. I really do. He’s a good man. I wanted to love “The Machine”. I almost did. I think a lot of people felt this way. Of all the four films from these modern stand-ups, it was the freshest. The biggest swing. The less of a retread. It was an action comedy retelling of his beloved college story. The problem to me with the movie was Bert. He wasn’t quite good enough in the lead. God, it hurts to write this. I’m such a huge fan of his. I like him so much as a person. I wanted this thing to do a hundred million dollars. For Bert and for comedy. It would have if Bert would have been better in it. I believe that.
I may be talking out of my ass here, but I do think I have some experience and sense of it. In too many scenes, Bert looked like a deer in the camera’s headlights. He wasn’t there with the rest of the actors, and we weren’t as deep into the movie as we were supposed to be. Think about Eddie Murphy in “48 Hours” Steve Martin in “The Jerk”, Tim Allen in “The Santa Clause”, Adam Sandler in “Billy Madison”. They all centered those movies in a way that we took the ride with them. On one level, I don’t blame Bert so much. I don’t think the director did a good enough job helping him settle into it. I also take into account the guy only had twenty million dollars, which is nothing to make a movie of that scope, and he had to focus on everything else but Bert and Bert’s performance, and the rest of the movie is pretty damn good, the action and the stunts and the look and the pace, but the main guy needs to be protected.
Then there’s the theory, and this is what I’m thinking in general, that maybe there is no protecting these guys in this modern age. Maybe they don’t realize just yet how much work filmmaking is, and in a time where it’s just another little ribbon they want to pin on their sash, they’re going to be too busy, too tired, too messed up to be good enough to be fantastic. I know Bert’s director had his hands full just by some of the interviews I read where Bert talked about being up all night before shooting and coming back from doing concerts and that kind of thing. I also know Bert likes to drink and has publicly stated he’s never giving up drinking.
I learned early on that movie life and stand-up life were two distinct lives. The crews and the people that made movies were completely opposite types of people than the ones that I knew in the comedy clubs and the stand-up world. In stand-up, we went all night, hard, and in movies, we worked like crazy people, all day and all night. We didn’t have time to party. Not until the film was over. Not really. I had to get sober when I started writing and directing and acting in films. It was too hard to do it messed up. I also had to let stand-up go. I didn’t have the bandwidth to do it all. The machine will eat you alive if you try to do too much. It’s one thing to be a comic and do podcasts and YouTube stuff or even some sitcom work, but if you’re talking about carrying a movie? You need to be retired from everything else.
I also wasn’t making the millions and millions of dollars from stand-up that these guys are. It’s even harder to let that go. I don’t think you can be great as a movie comic or filmmaker as a hobby, though. Bert Kreischer and Burr and Sebastian and a few of these guys need to do some soul-searching and decide if they want it that badly. Tim Allen had John Pasquin on “The Santa Clause” read him the riot act. Told him to get his shit together, fast. Eddie Murphy had his shit together, so did Adam Sandler. He didn’t do his stand-up for years as he broke into movies. When Albert Brooks made his films, he never even thought about doing stand-up, sometimes years at a time. Their films were their expression. Their release.
The times we’re in now, the top stand-ups are so successful, so in control, so in demand, they really can’t take the time to be the kind of craftsman that can make a movie that’s personal and real enough to match what the audience has come to know about them through their stage act. Sebastian has done such a great job of painting us the picture of his life as an Italian and his relationship with his father just standing there at a microphone, to do something that authentic and exclusive to him to be a breakthrough film, to match the experience his fans have come to expect would take such painstaking craftsmanship. A small, heartfelt, one-of-a-kind, honest piece that had never been seen before. Something like Albert Brooks’ “Modern Romance”, only about him and his father. Instead, he went with the opposite, with a film that felt like it was rubber-stamped and taken off the shelf and done twenty times before and resized for his body and sense of humor. A movie that could be made in a time slot between his next tour and his next Netflix special.
It was a swing for the fences when maybe he didn’t really need to hit a home run. He needed to make his fans happy they were his fans, and he needed to stretch as an artist. He should have made “The Big Night”. Him and his dad opening a restaurant. Something sweet and small. He still can. It’s going to take concentration if he wants to do it though. The same with Jo Koy. Both of those movies were misfires. It’s okay. Get back on the horse if that’s what you want to do. Just figure out how bad you want it because the truth is, you don’t need it. Not in today’s world. It’s another thing that may just be an antiquated notion. If you have a story you’re dying to tell, you can always just make it yourself and put it up on YouTube. It’s going to be a lot better. Watch.
Burr’s debut film will, I believe (I’m not sure), be streaming on Netflix sometime this fall or late this year. Netflix didn’t make it, Miramax did it. In fact, Netflix passed on the script, which was crazy considering he’s one of their biggest stand-up stars. Miramax made it a couple of years ago for something like six million dollars and Burr directed it. He co-wrote it with Ben Tishler, who’s a really good writer. They both are. It’s a sharp premise; I read a few of the drafts, and I saw a rough cut of the film play to a preview audience. It’s a good film. I have to say, of all the comics discussed here, Burr is the best actor. He has the chops. I do think he made the exact same mistake and just thought he’d whip off a movie in between eleven other things he was doing before a giant arena tour and playing Fenway Stadium, just cram a movie out in five weeks having never made one before. He made it sober, but high on his own farts, never listening to anyone’s advice but his own. God bless him, Burr’s always the smartest man in any state he’s in, and he applied that rule to his filmmaking skills, including all the ones he brought to the very first film he ever made.
That said, he made a good little movie. He desperately wanted it in theaters and for it to be a Will Farrell kind of thing, and I think that was his big mistake. It was another one that felt like we’d seen it before despite it having a fresh premise. Things happen the way they’re supposed to though; he didn’t get the theatre release and I think he’ll be grateful one day. He should be making films for Netflix. His brand is smart; his fans will go with him to cool, bold, intelligent places in unique films. He needs to stay in there, learn the craft, listen to smart people, shut his trap every now and then, work with some good directors. Note to Netflix; You should support him. Put “Old Dads” out in some theaters first maybe. Market his stuff. There’s no way Burr can’t give you everything you get from Noah Baumbach and more in time.
By the way, if anyone’s reading this, thinks I’m kissing this guy’s ass, trying to get work from him, wrong. I’ve worked with him a lot, and I’d rather have a dead pony shoved up my ass than do it again. In fact, he’s on my bucket list of things never to repeat as long as I live. With that said, I do think he’s someone who could be a strong filmmaker. I just think he’d be smart to set whatever needed to be set aside to make his films and grow that side of his art. He’s taking pretty good care of himself, so the question for him is, can he shut his mouth and listen long enough to collaborate? Not just pretend to listen? Because even as a writer-director and star, film is still a collaborative art.
THEY NEED SUPPORT
With all of these stand-ups, I really hope the jerk-offs that are running the studios these days are smart enough to realize not only how popular they are but how talented they all are. Bert, Sebastian, Jo, Burr, these guys, Ray Romano, a few others, Shane Gillis, they need to be given shots and then more shots to build film careers. Yeah, films aren’t cheap to make, but if you stay with these acts and they hit, you can build back a wing of the industry that got shut down because either you or stupid people before you messed up. The business needs about five more Adam Sandlers.
I’LL TELL YOU ONE WHO CAN BE THAT .. EASY.
Ali Wong. No doubt. Talk her into doing a major movie with a big star. Adam. Tom Cruise. Denzel. A comedy. A drama. Anything good. With a good director. Boom. She’s gone. Off to the races. She’s the next huge international star. Between “Beef”, her Netflix specials, and movies, she’s primed to do a box office thing. She’s kept herself private. She’s smart. Sexy. Funny. She’s the one.
Okay. That’s it! Don’t hate me. I mean you can. But don’t. It won’t help.
If you’re in L.A. on July 1st, come out to the Ice House and see me and a great show.
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