Plot: Jackie Burke (Robert De Niro) is a stand up comic with an acidic wit and a fearless style, but despite his success on stage, he struggles to overcome one of the characters from his past. He was once the star of a popular sitcom, playing a character known for catchphrases, not fresh, sharp banter. The persona of his stand up act is far removed from that beloved television character, but his fans want to see that role and when he is booked, he is often asked to at least rattle off his catchphrase. When an audience member heckles him and then tries to take the microphone, Jackie lays him out and winds up sentenced to community service. As he performs his punishment, Jackie meets Harmony (Leslie Mann) and the two strike up an odd, but strong bond, all while Jackie tries to get his life in order.
Entertainment Value: The world of stand up comedy is rich with cinematic potential and seeing Robert De Niro in such a dark, abrasive role is fun, but The Comedian never hits the heights of its potential. The narrative has a good core, as an insult comic tries to leave his past behind and forge a new persona, but this isn’t explored much and that’s a shame. I would have loved to hear more about Jackie’s transition and how he dealt with the mental aspect of being stuck in that old character, but the movie tends to gloss over this the few times it comes up. The weak narrative is bolstered by several side threads and quite an ensemble of talent, all of which helps, but in the end, there’s still a lot of potential left uptapped here. I still think there’s some solid humor, especially in how De Niro interacts with other people, but the sentiment feels forced and I just wanted more depth from his character. I also like how the atmosphere of the clubs comes across here, which adds a lot to the movie. So while it has a lot of issues, The Comedian is worth a shot, especially for fans of De Niro and stand up comics.
While he is best known for his dramatic turns, Robert De Niro has some had some success in the comedy realm, so he seems at home in this material and is a natural as a stand up comedian. I love how arrogant and toxic his persona is here, a nastiness he more than embraces and wrings a lot of humor out of, even when the script is less than impressive. His banter with the audiences and other characters is the best part of The Comedian, as he really runs with the abrasive tones of Jackie and that makes for some memorable moments. Leslie Mann also has a prominent role and she is able to show off her dramatic skills, keeping pace with De Niro throughout. This is a more serious role than she usually takes on, but she really delivers and her natural charisma still shines through, even without a lot of humor. Danny DeVito and Harvey Keitel are also on deck here, but their roles are smaller ones and while they aren’t exactly cameos, they aren’t main characters either. The cast also includes Cloris Leachman, Edie Falco, Billy Crystal, and a host of real life stand up comics.