15 iconic movies and TV shows about stand-up comics

Explore the world of stand-up comedy from the comfort of your sofa with these great films and series.

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You’ve seen them on stage, in clubs, and on television specials, now explore the world of stand-up comedy on the big screen as we compile fifteen of the greatest films and TV series about comedians and their craft.

Man on the Moon (1999)

Directed by Miloš Forman, Jim Carrey stars as the late American entertainer Andy Kaufman in this biographical comedy-drama. Joined by a stellar cast including Paul Giamatti, Danny DeVito and Courtney Love, the story traces Kaufman’s life, from growing up in New York, through to his appearances at comedy clubs and onto television shows that rocketed him into the limelight.

The film references many of Kaufman’s most famous inside jokes and skits, including his long-standing feud with wrestler Jerry “The King” Lawler, and plenty of memorable performances on the likes of Late Night with David Letterman, Saturday Night Live and Fridays.

A documentary titled Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond was released in 2017, and chronicled Carrey’s immersive performance in the film, for which he stayed in character throughout the film’s entire production.

This Is My Life (1992)

Julie Kavner – the voice of Marge Simpson – stars as Dottie Ingels, a cosmetics counter clerk who dreams of being a stand-up comedian in Nora Ephron’s 1992 directorial debut.

One of many films written by the Ephron sisters, the story follows a divorcee and struggling comic (Kavner) in Queens, who sells up in order to buy an apartment in Manhattan. With support from her agent (Dan Aykroyd) and his assistant (Carrie Fisher), and set to a soundtrack performed by Carly Simon, Dottie’s comedy career flourishes, but her success in stand-up soon damages her relationship with her children.

Dolemite Is My Name (2019)

Based on true events, Dolemite Is My Name follows struggling comedian Rudy Ray Moore (Eddie Murphy) and his journey into filmmaking in the 1970s. Detailing his successes performing stand-up under the outrageous persona of Dolemite, a pimp known for obscene stories and NSFW jokes, he later enlists the help of dramatist Jerry Jones (Keegan-Michael Key) to write the 1975 movie of the same name.

The biographical Netflix adaption follows Moore’s career from selling bootlegs of his performances to the production process of his cult crime film, covering everything in between.

The King of Comedy (1982)

It may tell the tale of the world’s funniest profession, but there’s nothing light-hearted about this dark comedy from Martin Scorsese. 1982’s The King of Comedy tells a rather bleak tale of aspiring stand-up comedian Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro), and his adoration of television star and host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis).

A star in his own head, Rupert is the host a talk show – with an audience of none – in his mother’s basement in New York. Throughout the film, Pupkin goes to extreme lengths to advance his career and dreams of making it big, initiating meetings and stalking TV host Langford before kidnapping him for ransom. With Jerry’s release hanging on the promise of Rupert scoring a guest spot on his talk show, the whole situation spirals out of control with disastrous results.

Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life is Calling (1986)

Richard Pryor’s first and only directorial outing is stranger than fiction – an autobiographical window into the mind of one of the greatest comics of a generation.

Pryor plays Jo Jo Dancer, a comedy superstar and addict whose intent to quit cocaine doesn’t stop one final hurrah. The result? He’s hospitalised with severe burns – a situation pulled straight from a real-life incident in which Pryor was treated after setting himself on fire in a suicide attempt due to his own drug use.

However, the film isn’t all dark. The incident causes Jo Jo to seriously re-examine his life, and through flashbacks takes the viewer through his past as a small-town comic, building to a huge comeback performance.

Punchline (1988)

Starring Tom Hanks and Sally Field, Punchline follows the unlikely friendship of a talented young comic and a housewife, who’s trying to break into stand-up comedy.

Steven Gold (Hanks) is a struggling medical school student who moonlights as a stand-up comedian, and befriends mother and homemaker, Lilah Krytsick (Field), helping to improve her comedy act. Facing personal battles along the way, they end up competing against one another for a coveted spot on a television show.

Crashing (2017 – 2019)

Exec-produced by Judd Apatow, this semi-autobiographical TV show revolved around a fictional version of its creator Pete Holmes, a comedian who pursues a career in stand-up after his wife is unfaithful and he is left homeless.

With three seasons on HBO, Crashing features several comedians playing themselves in recurring roles including Artie Lange and T. J. Miller, while others have guest appearances including Amy Schumer, Seth Meyers, The Lucas Brothers, Bill Burr, and Whitney Cummings.

Rubberface (1981)

What started life as Introducing… Janet, a made-for-TV movie and first film role for comedic actor Jim Carrey – who plays a stand-up called Tony Maroni – resulted in the retitled slapstick cult offering Rubberface.

The film was renamed in time for its re-release to video in the 1990s – after Carrey’s rise to success – and details the friendship of schoolgirl Janet (Adah Glassbourg) with the struggling comedian.

The Big Sick (2017)

Based on the autobiographical screenplay written by Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon, this 2017 film follows Pakistani comic Kumail, his blossoming stand-up career and his relationship with American graduate school student Emily (Zoe Kazan), who he meets when she heckles him during a set.

While their cultural differences cause issues for Kumail, Emily soon contracts an illness that puts her in a coma, forcing Kumail to spend time with her parents (Ray Romano and Holly Hunter) and to rethink some of his decisions.

Mr. Saturday Night (1992)

Directed, produced and co-written by Billy Crystal alongside Babaloo Mandel and Lowell Ganz, Mr. Saturday Night follows the career of stand-up comedian Buddy Young Jr. (Crystal).

With the help of his brother and manager Stan (David Paymer), Buddy’s journey is told through a series of flashbacks, detailing the sibling’s childhood and Buddy’s rise to fame, as well as his career’s decline in later life and his attempts at a comeback.

Stan and Ollie (2018)

Directed by Jon S. Baird and written by Jeff Pope, Stan & Ollie pays tribute to one of the most beloved comic duos of the classic Hollywood era of American cinema.

With Steve Coogan starring as Englishman Stan Laurel, and John C. Reilly as American Oliver Hardy, this 2018 biographical comedy details the later years of the pair’s career as a double act. It explores their lives, loves and the creative differences that surfaced as they embarked on what would turn out to be their final tour together in 1953.

Marvellous Mrs Maisel (TV) (2017 – present)

The award-winning American period comedy created by Amy Sherman-Palladino – the creative force behind Gilmore GirlsThe Marvelous Mrs. Maisel stars Rachel Brosnahan as Miriam “Midge” Maisel, a New York City housewife in 1950s and ‘60s whose content life is irreversibly changed when her husband leaves her, and she discovers she has a talent for stand-up comedy.

As she pursues her newfound career, she gains a manager and tours the comedy clubs of New York alongside an all-star cast including Alex Borstein, Michael Zegen and Jane Lynch.

The Comedian (2016)

Fed up of only being known for one TV role years earlier, ageing comic Jackie Burke’s (Robert De Niro) attempts to reinvent himself and his stand-up act. Failing miserably, his endeavours result in a fight at a club and a 30-day jail sentence.

While completing community service, the comedian meets Harmony (Leslie Mann) and learns there’s more to life, and finds new inspiration in this off-beat rom-com.

Sleep Walk With Me (2012)

Based on Mike Birbiglia’s one-man off-Broadway show, the 2012 comedy film sees Birbiglia star as Matt Pandamiglio, a struggling comic who decides to take his act on the road. As frustrations with his career, relationships and life stressors manifest themselves as sleepwalking, the audience follows the comic on tour, witnessing the good and the bad right alongside him.

A film of towering highs and unspeakable lows, the deeply personal nature of the film reflects the tough emotional topics he often discusses on stage in real life, and documents his grappling anxiety, leading to his sleepwalking episodes becoming more humourous and dangerous as the story continues.

Seinfeld (1989 – 1998)

Long-running TV show Seinfeld aired for 9 years in the late ‘80s and ’90s. Created by real-life comic Jerry Seinfeld and fellow comedian and friend, Larry David, the sitcom follows the misadventures of a neurotic comedian in New York and the increasingly crazy events that surround him.

The series stars Seinfeld as a fictionalized version of himself, living in a NY apartment block, and focusses on the everyday goings-on of his personal life and friendships.

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