“Spinal Tap showed every horrible thing that an aging rock band would run into,” said stand-up comedian Tom McCaffrey. “I wanted to do that for comedy. Every nightmare experience that comedians could relate to, but not only comedians — I wanted it to be relatable to anyone who’s ever been in show business in general.”
The result is a film called, Adventures In Comedy — a mockumentary that mirrors Spinal Tap by following McCaffrey around as he attempts to get back into stand-up and record a new album with a clueless manager “helping” him. The movie basically recreates every awful situation he’s found himself in or has heard about from fellow comics. There are scenes in which he plays a gig in someone’s apartment in New York City; where his manager says his career is “so cold it’s hot”; and where he’s asked “Do you want to be paid or do you want to do comedy? You can’t do both.”
What separates his film from a straight comedy club version of Spinal Tap are real-life interviews with comedians like Janeane Garofalo, Jim Gaffigan, Margaret Cho, and Michael Che. McCaffrey uses the experiences revealed in the real-life interviews to parallel those of his own life. He quickly learns that his experiences and problems are often shared among the industry, even when someone had appeared to have made it.
It’s never easy making a living as a comedian, but as one gets older and is no longer seen as the young, hip comic they once were, jobs become harder and harder to find. One of the main inspirations for the film was McCaffrey staring at turning 40 in the eye and feeling all of the pressure of that personal milestone. It turns out he isn’t alone and actually has good reason to worry about turning older.
“Janeane Garofolo talked very frankly about how her career wasn’t what it was at one point,” recalled McCaffrey. “Even she was grappling with getting older in the industry of comedy and not having the same opportunities as before. She talked about how it was hard for her to adjust when the huge success and opportunities went away. I’m going through it on a much smaller scale, but it seems like it never ends. You would think certain people had made it and were happy but even people like Gaffigan talked about struggling and not feeling secure in many aspects.”
Getting older isn’t the only struggle comedians have in the industry. They often run into problems auditioning for the top clubs. Take Michael Che who McCaffrey interviewed shortly before he joined the cast of “Saturday Night Live.”
“I interviewed him right when he was sort of blowing up,” recalled McCaffrey. “He told the story of how he auditioned for a club and they were like, ‘Oh, you’re not ready’ and then auditioned for the same club six months later with the exact same set but because he had more heat on him at the time they said, ‘Oh, you’re great!’”
Meanwhile, Garofalo spoke of having a hard time even getting auditions now because casting people had a preconceived notion of her. “The idea that even she struggles in the industry proved to me that there’s never a making it point,” said McCaffrey. “You can have success, but it very easily can go away. She sort of alluded that she might have taken it for granted when she was so successful, but also seemed to be surprised at her success. All of a sudden she was starring in movies and she didn’t expect it so when it went away she felt normal. It was as if she was lucky for a decade and now that it’s over it made sense.”
Comedians often run into managers and agents who claim to help them but only want to work with them after they’ve reached a point in which jobs are handed to them anyway. McCaffrey includes many of his own personal experiences in the film. Experiences such as meetings in which he was told he was funny and should come back to them if he did anything big. “It was basically like if I become famous, then you’ll represent me?” he recalled. “I had one meeting in which I was like ‘Can you get me a half-hour special?’ and told ‘If you get a half-hour special come back to us.’ So, why would I need them?”
Everything but the interviews are completely scripted and often very funny scenes. The combination of mockumentary and documentary makes for a very interesting look at the industry. McCaffrey was originally planning on going the indie film festival route in order to get a distribution deal for the film, but plans changed when Comedy Dynamics approached about about distributing the film online. If you’re interested in seeing what happens behind the curtain and the harsh realities of the comedy industry check it out on Hulu, Roku, iOS, Amazon, or Android.
Gary Wien has been covering the arts since 2001 and has had work published with Jersey Arts, Elmore Magazine, Princeton Magazine, Backstreets and other publications. He is a three-time winner of the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Journalist and the author of Beyond the Palace (the first book on the history of rock and roll in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists. In addition, he runs New Jersey Stage and the online radio station The Penguin Rocks. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.