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