Funny Ha-Ha or Funny Peculiar: Funny People.Posted: August 4, 2009
When you say “there’s something funny about that guy,” you usually don’t mean he makes you laugh. You mean there’s something wrong with him. The word “funny” means two very different things in our language — or so it seems. The brilliance of Judd Apatow’s new film Funny People is that it raises the possibility that the meanings aren’t different, after all. He makes the link between comedy and pathology.
It’s not that no one ever noticed that comedians tend to be screwed up. But not until Funny People has there been a movie that connected the dots. To be a good comedian, to produce over a career’s time a steady stream of life observations that have the fresh surprise we call humor, means continuously to be observing life rather than living it. That takes a toll. You can see that this is what has led the fabulously successful main character, played by Adam Sandler, to the miserable state he’s in, and you can see the struggling young comedian characters in the film, played by Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Aubrey Plaza and Jason Schwartzman, well on their way to that hell. What the film doesn’t resolve is what’s the chicken and what’s the egg. Do people who are so disconnected from themselves and others that they are borderline-autistic find their way into standup comedy because it’s the one way they can turn their mental illness into a living? Or does choosing a life of comedy, with the commitment it entails always to be an observer, always to be at a remove from life and other people, make one over time into an alienated, depressed and anxiety-stricken creature? Or is it simply that getting up in front of people and trying to make them laugh will turn anyone into a nervous wreck?
Whichever it is, Apatow has found a way to make you guffaw and feel miserable at the same time. The film is a 130-minute anxiety attack, and it doesn’t send you out of the theater feeling good, but it makes a journey into hell as much laughs as a journey into hell can possibly be. Funny, that.