“I was reading this the other day… hobo cocks are one of the purest things on the planet.”
This is the kind of phrase with the disgusting, blunt and uncomfortable imagery that just makes you want to shut your brain off. And the speaker of this, Swanson (Tim Heidecker), can talk about this awfully long without cracking a smile.
As an audience, we’re not supposed to think Swanson is funny. We pay attention to the first part of his sentence: “I was reading this the other day.” Here’s proof that this is a bad guy who takes being repellent and abrasive very seriously, so much so that no matter how much pain he’s in, he might not be able to turn it off.
The ironically titled “The Comedy” then is a portrait of such a broken man. Its character is insulting, rude and without purpose or merit, but the film itself isn’t. It acknowledges how after a while, it must be tough always being the jackass.
Swanson might’ve once gotten many a laugh or a rise by egging people on, but now everyone knows his game, and most won’t even dignify it with a response. He carries on a Southern accent in front of his unfazed sister-in-law until he looks very pathetic. When he finally asks how his brother is doing in prison, she replies, “Are you really asking that?” He ruins the moment of course, but if she has to ask, she’s not willing to give him a serious response anyway.
Some might think “The Comedy” is a character study about a guy who gets sick pleasure out of this, but the film is more nuanced than that. At one point Swanson poses as a gardener and instigates a rich couple by asking if he can cool down in their pool. When they surprisingly agree, he storms off in a huff. Later he starts hurling around stereotypes in an African American bar, a scene so uncomfortable because he’s a second away from getting stabbed. It reminded me of Michael Fassbender’s character in “Shame,” another guy who no longer gets any pleasure from his addiction and in fact endangers himself in the pursuit of it.
Heidecker, a man who specializes in such broad anti-humor on his show, “Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!”, anchors “The Comedy” on his unsympathetic performance. He walks a fine line in acting very sincere about the act of being insincere.
But director Rick Alverson has transformed the goofy performances of Heidecker into something real, painful and human. In another setting, there might be something funny to Swanson sliding around on church pews, but in Alverson’s jarring close-ups, jostling camera and sporadic editing befitting Heidecker’s show, there’s something more unsettling going on.
“The Comedy” is a hard pill to swallow, a difficult indie film with even more obnoxious people and situations at its core. But it’s a sharp realization that even these awful, monstrous individuals are human enough to hit rock bottom.
3 ½ stars