Two recent documentaries show the tragic side of comedy through comedienne Joan Rivers and literary wit Fran Lebowitz.
"Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work" is an intimate look at a comedienne in decline. The documentary doesn't follow her career chronologically, but rather shows the peaks and the valleys in the life of a stand-up comic. There was a lot to overcome in her personal life as well as breaking new ground on the comedy scene and holding her own on late night talk shows. "Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work" is for fans of the comedienne and will likely inspire new appreciation of her chutzpah. Surprisingly, the tears outnumber the laughs.
Fran Lebowitz, who burst on the scene as a literary wit with much promise and now seems to be playing a bit part in her own legend, should be the subject of a bittersweet documentary. Ironically, "Public Speaking" is loaded with laughs. In one segment, Lebowitz is asked about her long running writer's block. She explains writer's block is temporary, what she's experiencing is a writer's blockade. Produced by Martin Scorsese, "Public Speaking" is so well edited it runs like a comedy routine with a steady stream of jokes and quips. The humor can be cutting because Lebowitz voices strong opinions on every subject. The documentary gives a brief synopsis of her past, but consists mainly of her repartee on everything from AIDS to politics to what kind of car she drives-a former Checker cab. "Public Speaking" is wit worth watching if you don't mind a bit of acid with your humor.
--Cindy F., Headquarters