Despite the laughter they might elicit from viewers with their material, the life of a stand-up comic can be incredibly difficult and painful – perhaps much more so than most realize. From director Jorgy Cruz, the documentary Funny Pains delves directly into this unseen part of the comedy business, following the rise of comedian Wendi Starling. The movie will make you laugh at times with its jokes from Starling and other featured comics, but it’s not exactly a picnic either, as Starling also touches on her difficult personal traumas.
Wendi Starling has been navigating her career as a comic during one of the most interesting times for a comedian, rising in the business during the peak of “cancel culture” and the #MeToo movement. Stand-up comedy in particular has seen many changes in recent years due to social media backlash, and comics have since been expected to keep all of their material politically correct. This might be cutting down on the amount of people feeling offended about jokes they’ve heard from comedians on stage, but it has made the comedy business that much more competitive and difficult to break through, making the journey that much more difficult for Starling as revealed in the documentary.
Though the folks familiar with her charming and positive demeanor might not guess this, Starling also struggles behind the scenes with bipolar disorder. Through her own words, Starling speaks in Funny Pains about the major problems the condition has brought to her everyday life, which includes things like paranoid visions of home intruders keeping her awake for days on end; in one story, Starling says envisioning actor Hugh Jackman comforting her actually made her feel better. A rape survivor, Starling also reveals the devastating story of her sexual assault, and truth be told, it’s very hard to hear. Still, as a funnywoman at heart, Starling has managed to use humor to deal with these situations, incorporating some of these horrific stories into her stand-up material.
In addition to Starling, Funny Pains features a handful of other comedians regaling some of their own stories of peril during their respective careers. Nikki Glaser, Bonnie McFarlane, Rich Vos, and Jim Norton are among those who appear in the documentary, sharing stories of bombing on stage and touching on the trials and tribulations of what it takes to become a successful comic. The lady comics in particular shed a lot of light on what it’s like for them in the comedy business, pulling back the curtain to reveal the immense difficulties behind the scenes that are masked with the laugh-inducing material on stage.
Sometimes, the funniest people can be the ones dealing with the most pain, and those only familiar with Starling’s work on stage may find it surprising to know of her struggles with bipolar disorder and other serious situations involved with her journey in trying to make it in the comedy business. Funny Pains succeeds in showing Starling in a different light for people to understand her that much more. Despite the serious subject matter, Starling also keeps things funny as well, and her comical point of view and abilities as an entertainer keep Funny Pains a really fun watch all the way through.
You can delve into Starling’s journey now as Funny Pains is now available to watch on demand, and you can also check out the official trailer below, courtesy of October Coast on YouTube.
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