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Mock Trial

New chronicle of 'independent' comedy operates with a scattershot critical eye, but does bring out a few useful insights.

Mock Stars: Indie Comedy & the Dangerously Funny” by John Wenzel, while a bit unfocused in some chapters, still manages to be indispensable both as a chronicle of the continually developing “indie” comedy scene in New York, L.A. and online, and with profiles of some of its most notable performers.

Wenzel traces many of the strains of indie comedy back to David Cross and “Mr. Show,” with much less ink about Upright Citizens Brigade and other improv and sketch comedy innovators. Wenzel also makes some nods to unconventional stand-up comedians, such as Mitch Hedberg and the conceptual stand-up who goes by the name Neil Hamburger. This all is also part of another thesis Wenzel has about indie comedy’s increasing attraction to or camaraderie with independent musicians and groups.

Where “Mock Stars” suffers is in its looser chapters, namely a rambling profile of David Cross that is overly reverential about his every move even in interview sessions, not even in performances. In contrast, Wenzel’s later chapter about Hamburger is focused, concise and more purposeful -- and would work easily as a stand-alone feature about and explanation of Hamburger’s act.

The book contains a couple sidebar pieces that are also a mixed bag -- a guest piece by Andrew Earles dissects some old Rodney Dangerfield HBO specials (re-released as a DVD package) in an overly critical way, not giving Rodney enough due for mentoring several comics who went on to become great. The purpose of this is maybe only to provide contrast for what younger “indie” comedians and groups may be rebelling against, although those performers probably would themselves say they are simply doing their own thing.

Wenzel takes time in a later sidebar piece to point to performers in Denver’s own indie comedy scene, which admittedly for those in New York or L.A., doesn’t hold much interest unless that scene becomes widely recognized as important to the art form in the way the Seattle scene changed rock music -- or unless you live in Denver.

So all in all, while there are some portions of “Mock Stars” that are unfocused or of less interest to a wider audience, maybe like indie comedy itself, it is worth checking out for some insights and selected profiles and chapters.




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