DVD Review: I’m Dying Up Here (Season One)

In the early ’70s the only thing worse than not getting a shot on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson was stepping from behind the curtain and imploding. This was a tough gig because sure you might have been a massive hit with comedy clubs in Los Angeles and New York City. But the Tonight Show audience was filled with families from Iowa on vacation who thought Herbie the Lovebug,/I> was a documentary. You had to have that ability to connect with the “common folks” on that soundstage. But that was the obstacle course tos stardom. Johnny was the gatekeeper to stardom for comics. You slay the audience and Johnny waves you over to sit next to his chair, you could headline big rooms in Vegas, record a comedy record and even get sitcom offers. If you bomb, maybe the Chucklehut will let you sign up for open mic night. I’m Dying Up Here: Season One opens with a comic not melting down under the lights, but holding the audience in his hands. Johnny waves him over. The keys to the kingdom are his. He celebrates his good fortune by stepping in front of a bus.

Goldie’s comedy club is the center of the comic universe for Los Angeles in the early ’70s. On any night you don’t know who is in the audience. Each set is a chance to hook up with a show booker, producer, manager, agent of a big star. Or you could be yucking it up with a bunch of drunks from Idaho who couldn’t get into the Tonight Show. When their fellow comic dies, the crew questions why he did it, but ultimately they need to know how this will effect their status in the pecking order when it comes to getting slots on the main stage. Who will be the next prize comic for Goldie (The Fighter‘s Melissa Leo) to get him hooked up with Carson and other names that graced her stage. Goldie is a tough woman running the business. She has rules and expects a certain level of fear from others. If you expect to move up from open mic night, you listen to her and you make the audience laugh. She doesn’t bend over backwards for her comics. She catches a comic playing a lesser club that offers a free buffet to the talent. She screws over his weekend schedule. But she is protective of her talent. At the end of the season has her going against a TV show producer when he realizes that he’s not fully using his female talent for his variety show. As much as the comics come and go, she won’t allow anyone else to meatgrind her people.

I’m Dying Up Here really captures the ’70s in the clubs and apartments. It looks like an old Crown International flick with the fabrics, bulky wood furniture and color scheme. While this is an ensemble cast, Al Madrigal (The Daily Show) steals the spotlight as Edgar Martinez. He uses his Mexican heritage for a nice chunk of humor. What helps Al’s performance is his mustache that looks like the one used by Grant Show on Swingtown. There’s plenty of fine performances including Ari Graynor as a comic trying her hardest to figure out how to get a slot that isn’t up against closing. I’m Dying Up Here: Season One gives a fine insight into what you had to do to strike it big as a stand up in the era before a cellphone camera recording of a set on YouTube could make you an overnight sensation.

The video is 1.78:1 anamorphic. The resolution brings out the details in the ’70s production design. Everything is so shaggy. The audio is Dolby Digital 5.1 which makes you feel like you’re sitting in the club hearing the sets. The episodes are subtitled.

No bonus features.

CBS presents I’m Dying Up Here: Season One. Starring: Melissa Leo, Ari Graynor, Michael Angarano, RJ Cyler and Al Madrigal. Boxset Contents: 10 Episodes on 3 DVDs. Released: May 29, 2018

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