Last weekend I was scrolling through Netflix for something to watch, and nothing was really speaking to me, so I clicked over to Amazon Prime. One of the shows that was recommended right at the top was called Inside Jokes. It's a documentary-style series that follows seven comedians as they audition for the New Faces Showcase at the Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal, Canada. If you've seen the movie The Big Sick, the lead character, Kumail, was auditioning for this same festival, which is the holy grail of stand up comedy.
Throughout the series, comedians who were once part of New Faces share what the experience was like for them - Colin Jost, Hannibal Buress, Chelsea Peretti, Alonzo Boden, Gary Gulman and more. You also get to see clips from past years, including sets from Amy Schumer, Kevin Hart, Ali Wong and Hasan Minaj.
In episode one, we meet four comedians living in Los Angeles and chasing the dream of becoming well-known stand up comics. Simon Gibson and MK Paulsen are both hoping for a spot at Just For Laughs (which they all call JFL for short) and in addition to hitting open mics together, they're also roommates. Daphnique Springs has a vision board in her apartment that helps keep her motivated, and one of her goals for this year is to get into JFL. The last member of the LA crew is Kellen Erskine, who turned out to be one of my favorites. He talks candidly about his struggle to be on the road, get his name out there, and also parent his two young sons. His wife, Abby, is unbelievable. Her unwavering support had me welling up a few times.
Episode two brings us to the east coast, to the comedy clubs of New York City. We get to know three comics - Rosebud Baker, Robert Dean and Alzo Slade. Rosebud is originally from Maine, and lost her sister at a very young age. Comedy has helped her tell her story and find levity during the impossibly hard moments. Robert Dean spends his days as a furniture salesman, and hits the clubs at night. This will be his eighth year auditioning for JFL. Alzo Slade plays to this Southern roots, writing jokes about adjusting to life in the big city.
The series follows these seven hopefuls as they work on their sets, participate in the call backs for JFL, get selected (or not), head to Montreal and take that big stage in front of over 400 industry heavyweights - writers, directors, producers, bookers and more.
Of course of the series, you're rooting for each and every one of them, but what I found most fascinating was watching them perfect their sets. They'd hit open mics and test out different pacing, different transitions, different words in the punchline. There is a scene where Rosebud and Kellen are talking about how changing which word you emphasis in the punchline of the joke completely changes the delivery, and thus the audience's reaction.
I've always thought of stand up comics as amazing observers. People who notice things about the world, human behavior, oddities and then bring those things to our attention. In watching Inside Jokes, I learned that at the heart of it all, they are writers. They have notebooks and notebooks full of ideas, set ups, one liners. They are always trying to write the story in an order that primes the audience, gets them anticipating a certain result and then boom! You hit them with the closer.
I also loved watching the two bookers from JFL attend the call backs, re-watch all the video footage and debate over who should get one of those coveted New Faces spots. They would praise one person for their physical comedy, one person for their energy level, another for their whip smart writing. You really felt like you were a fly on the wall during the entire selection process.
It was awesome to go behind-the-scenes with the comics and the JFL bookers, and of course, laugh my ass off during all of their sets. There are six episodes, and each is one hour. You can easily watch the whole season in a day (and you'll want to).
*Image courtesy of Amazon.