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With: Eugene Mirman, Kristen Schaal, Kumail Nanjiani, Mike Birbiglia, Janeane Garofalo, Jim Gaffigan, Michael Showalter, Wyatt Cenac, Aparna Nancherla, Reggie Watts, Bobcat Goldthwait
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Julie Smith Clem, Ken Druckerman
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 76
Date: 04/03/2020
IMDB

It Started as a Joke (2020)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Mic Paths

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This slight documentary breezes by quickly, but manages to capture its subject soulfully, while touching on serious subjects and demonstrating that laughter is sometimes, indeed, the best medicine.

In It Started As a Joke, we drop in on the tenth annual, and final, Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival. The documentary celebrates Mirman's unique brand of comedy, and his embracing of various fellow oddballs, like Kristen Schaal, Kumail Nanjiani, Mike Birbiglia, Janeane Garofalo, Jim Gaffigan, Michael Showalter, Wyatt Cenac, Aparna Nancherla, Reggie Watts, and Bobcat Goldthwait.

The festival developed a reputation for "anything goes," but after ten years, Mirman has decided to close it down, so that he can spend more time with his newly adopted son, and with his wife, who has contracted cancer. It will surely be a bittersweet, funny, and memorable night.

It Started As a Joke features a few revealing sit-down interviews with some of the comics, who seem to feel comfortable talking about Mirman and the festival without being "on." The history of the festival itself — intended as a spoof of more respectable comedy festivals — is a bit haphazard, but includes some of its more memorable moments, crazy ideas that were implemented without question, such as creative category names and a concept that involved getting drunk on stage.

When It Started As a Joke focuses on Mirman, he's remarkably candid, even casually so. The movie acknowledges that his particular sense of humor is very strange, and probably appeals more to other comedians than it does to audiences, but this also explains the success of the show. In one sequence, we see Mirman workshopping an idea: truthful greeting cards for people with cancer.

It's clear that he's trying for laughs, but he's also working out his personal pain by speaking it out loud. While it certainly could have dug deeper, the movie nevertheless has the power to make viewers smile through their tears.

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