Comedy and tragedy have had an incestuous relationship throughout the history of the arts; often a laugh quickly escalates into affliction or a misfortune is made light by a comic touch. The life of a stand-up comedian hangs between these two entangled polarities. With his video in progress, Kyle Gilman '02, a visual and environmental studies concentrator from Wendell, Mass., explores this tightrope in the life of a local Boston comic as he navigates through the harsh and difficult circuit of the comedy world. When we think of comedians, we usually think of the lucky ones on sitcoms or HBO specials. But Kyle shows the world of the unknown laughmakers, with their nervous hands on a microphone, the sweat beading on their brows, the poorly timed delivery of a punchline-where the comedy sometimes isn't encapsulated in the clever joke, but in the tragedy of a comic hung out to dry by the silent pursed lips of his audience.
Kyle's video revolves around Tim McIntire, a comedian yet to break into the national scene who's attempting to bring out a more vicious and politically incorrect humor, the kind left untouched by more established comics. He tries to make people laugh, whether or not it damages feelings. Gilman lets this play out as he covers Tim in a cinema verit-style documentary, letting Tim make or break himself under the microscope of his audience and the camera. Through Tim and his fellow comics' exploits on the stage and off, Kyle attempts to explore the world of underappreciated (sometimes deservedly, sometimes not) stand-up comedians. "I have gained a whole new respect for comedians," Kyle says. "They get shit on, not many people respect their way of living." During one scene, Kyle shows Tim entertaining a group of intoxicated union members at a party, while one audience member heckles him by yelling "Sheep" and "That's baaaad" at regular intervals throughout Tim's routine.
Making a video on comedy was a natural progression for Gilman; in high school, he and a friend made a movie about a guy who orders pizzas and then kills the delivery boys. The movie garnered a New England Cable Access Award. After directing the zany Freshman Musical and working on several theater productions, Kyle had an urge to learn about stand-up comedy. Going into this current project, he says, "I've always had a secret desire to be a stand-up comedian, but I don't think now I ever will do it, though I thought this would be some kind of push." Although he may not be cut out for the comedy circuit, he is more than capable behind the camera, balancing the adrenaline and pressure of the stage with the banality of a comic's everydayness. Further, Gilman reveals that a comedian's bits and humor often dominate their quotidian affairs. In his personal life, Tim surrounds himself with comics, constantly finds a witty response for comments and makes his identity revolve around the persona of a comic. He never seems to be off; comedy surrounds his life in all its facets, even to the brink of annoyance and inappropriateness. Kyle explains that "comics lead a somewhat boring life offstage, because of, in some cases, their social dysfunction, which is why they probably ended up in stand-up comedy in the first place. Their way to deal is often to make jokes and to be funny."
In this dysfunction the video illustrates what makes comedy: the suffering and tragedy of comedians and their ability to transform their personal struggles and awkwardness into laughter. In one scene, Tim sits huddled in a booth at a bar with a few comics, testing new material and firing jokes back and forth at each other. They appear like a group of loners, neither fawned over by women nor paid any particular attention by anyone, just poking fun at themselves, their condition and the situations they encounter. It is there, in those moments, that Gilman uncovers the essence of humor, that it need not be on a stage or in front of a national audience, but rather it is finding lightness in the corners of bars with friends or being able to laugh at yourself when nobody is watching.
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