Given enough time, any successful comedian will attempt to branch out and do drama. With The Comedy, Tim Heidecker (one-half of the Tim and Eric comedy duo) throws his hat in the dramatic ring. Eric Wareheim is also along for the ride here, too, but he’s given a small supporting role. Given that the comedy of Tim and Eric left us absolutely baffled in the past, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that I don’t quite know what to make of their attempt at drama. Is The Comedy actually a merciless satire of shiftless, obnoxious hipsters? Is it supposed to be a sympathetic character study of self-consciously disaffected upper-class snob? Or is it something in between? I occasionally pondered these questions while watching The Comedy, but by the time the movie faded to black, I didn’t care anymore. The Comedy is nothing more than the portrait of an asshole.
The Comedy’s biggest flaw is the filmmakers’ choice of protagonist. Tim Heidecker plays Swanson, an absolute enigma of a man, and the entire film is told through his eyes. He appears to live off the wealth of his dying father. He finds plenty of time to run around with his obnoxious, man-child friends in Manhattan while not actually working a real job. He treats anyone he views as his social inferior with disdain while living out a completely contemptible and pointless existence.
In one scene we see Swanson drunkenly mock a male nurse caring for his father. In another scene he applies to work as a bartender in a lower income, African American neighborhood; when he’s turned down, he brags that if he had the job, he could bring his rich white friends in to spend big money there. Later on, we see Swanson bribe a cabbie $400 in exchange for permission to drive the car himself; once he gets behind the wheel, he tries to pick up a prostitute. Then we see him apply for a job as a minimum wage dishwasher at a restaurant—a job that he actually takes and works at. He doesn’t seem to need the money, and he holds those who actually do work for a living with contempt, so I can only assume that he slums in order to be ironic.
Irony drives everything Swanson does. And that’s what makes The Comedy so infuriating: It’s a film about a completely disingenuous person. If someone asked me to provide a cinematic representation of what a hipster, I would immediately point to this movie. Most of the characters are PBR swilling, self-consciously ironic assholes. They perform obnoxious actions and say horrible things because they believe they’re too cool and sophisticated to be taken seriously.
On the plus side, Tim Heidecker gives a great performance. Unlike his work with Tim and Eric Awesome Show, his performance here is natural and deadpan. He gives Bill Murray a run for his money in the area of portraying sad-eyed passive aggression. Heidecker manages to inhabit this nasty, drunken, spaced-out character and ground him. The movie itself is disjointed and mostly pointless, but Heidecker somehow finds a way to breathe life into the character. It’s just a shame that such a surprising and perceptive performance was wasted on such an unworthy character.
There’s simply no one to like or identify with in The Comedy, and while a few fantastic movies have centered on unlikable characters, those movies at least bothered to provide compelling reasons for why the audience should care. I know for a fact that people like Swanson exist, but the sole fact that a group of people exists doesn’t necessarily mean we should shine a spotlight on them. The final scene of the movie makes it clear that Rick Alverson views his protagonist with either contempt or pity, but he still never provides an argument for why a viewer should spend an hour and half watching this guy wallow in his own filth. In the end, I’m not convinced that Alverson even cares for his own creation, and if the writer and director of the movie can’t even be bothered to care, why should we?