After watching this film I did a quick survey of some of my friends, and this slipshod research of mine confirmed a notion I’ve held for a while that the salient aspect of stand-up comedy is its unmatched tendency of causing embarrassment in its audience. Watching someone tell a bad joke engages whatever empathy you might have left in this governmentless, crazy world in which we find ourselves in the worst way possible.
Comic Relief Zero, the latest (along with Does the Hip Hop Vol. 1: Gettin’ a Bad Rap) long-form effort from the found footage impresarios at Everything Is Terrible! understands this response on the part of those who can still manage to care about the dignity of other people to a frightening degree, and exploits it mercilessly. Scouring through countless hours of terrible stand-up routines, EIT! has come up with a brutal supercut of everything that’s wrong with stand-up comedy.
The structure of Comic Relief Zero is pretty ingenious. Well worn tropes of the stand-up comedy circuit are trotted out in their various incarnations and throughout different eras, creating a cavalcade of squirm inducing “jokes” that build upon one another and at times come very close to condemning the entire format of stand-up comedy itself. The audience is confronted with one terrible comic after another doing a bit about immigrants, then a bit about homosexuals, then a bit about women, and so on and so forth until the sheer magnitude of the vile stuff that’s taking place begs for a psychedelic interlude. Which the folks behind the curtain are quick to provide.
The film achieves an unsettling hypnotic effect, brought on by the repetition of cringeworthy jokes by all sorts of terrible comedians both recognizable and obscure/Christian. After a while there’s this sort of anti-comedy that arises from the detritus of so many poorly planned and executed bits of onstage humor. In a sense, Comic Relief Zero propels itself beyond concepts of what’s funny and what’s unfunny, almost like how the Cenobites in Hellraiser are so messed up on sensory overloads that the demarcating line between pain and pleasure is irrelevant. CR0 is a jarring, sometimes beautiful, though thoroughly painful mess, not without its own share of rewards for those who can get through it.
We all knew Doggiewoggiez! Poochiewoochiez! (TMT Review) was going to be a super tough act to follow. A staggering example of what one can accomplish after scouring what must have been just about every single dog movie for the richest content imaginable, Doggiewoggiez! was kind of a pinnacle for the group of super weirdoes who staff the food footage collective Everything Is Terrible!
Perhaps because that film was such an achievement, this subsequent effort seems in parts like it’s been phoned in. While the arc of the film is terrific, one finds the bros at EIT! going back to the same well one too many times. Jeff Dunham’s a dufus, and we all get it, but after the 20th clip of his vomitrocious material, it’s hard not to ask yourself if maybe they could’ve dug a little deeper into the terrifying and troublesome bowels of awful comedy videos. Sadly, the ambition of the project has outpaced the scope of effort available to complete it. That being said, and even at a runtime of under an hour, Comedy Relief Zero is still one of the most interesting films I’ve seen this year.