I laugh to stop myself from crying. Laughter is the best medicine. It only hurts when I laugh. We’ve all heard, and said, things like this. But for many comedians, these aren’t just figures of speech. Many of them struggle with depression and other issues. For some, such as Richard Jeni, or Robin Williams the struggle proves to be too much. The documentary Funny Pains takes a look at the tears behind the laughter.
Director Jorgy Cruz focuses on Wendy Starling. She suffers from bipolar disorder and has other traumas related to sexual assault. Funny Pains looks at her experiences and how she uses them as a way to help cope with them and heal herself. We can see how she incorporates her experiences into her act as well as how they shape her approach to comedy.
Although that is the film’s focus, Funny Pains is about more than just comedy as therapy. We see Starling going about her daily routine. Dealing with issues, be they personal, financial or emotional as they arise Working on pieces with other comedians. And through those interactions, we get a look at the comedy industry in general.
Among those comedians are Yamaneika Saunders, Krystyna Hutchinson, Rich Vos, Jim Norton and Nikki Glaser. They talk about life as a comedian. The successes, the failures and the challenges of changing times. Even though they don’t always directly relate to Starling, they help illustrate the world she lives and works in.
One thing that did annoy me about Funny Pains was the various performers complaining about how “political correctness” is ruining comedy. Yes, some people are oversensitive, but this is hardly something new. It wasn’t that long ago relatively speaking that Lenny Bruce was being arrested, fined and blacklisted for using words like “cocksucker” in his routines. George Carlin was arrested in the 70s. In the 80s of course there was the case of Mike Diana. See Boiled Angels: The Trial of Mike Diana for the details of that, and the trial of 2 Live Crew for their single “Me So Horny”.
Given the choice between being led off in cuffs and fined, let alone having some of the restrictions put on me that were put on Mike Diana. Or having people say nasty things about me on Twitter. Let them get outraged and tweet. It beats having a criminal record and paying out legal costs. Rant over.
I found Funny Pains ultimately to be an interesting film. Those interested in the comedy scene and/or with the same issues as Starling will probably find it even more so. I do wish there had been updating as this was mostly shot in 2015 and made its festival debut in 2017. It would be nice to see what, and how, she’s doing now.