Growing up I always loved comedy. I had people tell me I was funny, but my self-consciousness was too strong for me to overcome to actually do something like that. I have always dealt with anxiety and I can't really interact with many people, so the idea of going up in front of a lot of people, scared the living shit out of me. Small groups though, I enjoyed cracking jokes and making people laugh though. So inevitably I'd have a family member or friend say "you should do comedy", and my go to line was always "Well, unfortunately it wouldn't work to have an overly self conscious comedian on the stage. Every time I tell a joke and everyone starts laughing, I end up in the fetal position crying myself to sleep."
That was my one joke I ever told that I thought was actually kinda funny.
So instead of actually doing comedy, I would just inhale all the comedy I could find, and for me growing up in Virginia there was "The Comedy Channel" and "Ha!" which would merge, on appropriately enough, April Fools Day of 1991. I loved watching these programs where they would simply air segments of stand up comics all around the country. To a comic loving anxiety ridden near agoraphobe like me, it was the closest I would get to actual comedy clubs and it was awesome! I found so many comics through those shows that I would grow to love, like the late Richard Jeni, Larry Miller, Janeane Garafalo, Louie Anderson, and the Higgins Boys & Gruber, whose "Survey" Sketch may be one of the funnier things I've seen in my life.
A few years back I read something about Zany that I had never known, and that was that he had never had a one hour comedy special. That was amazing to me, as he's a fairly well known comic and seems to be well respected by his peers. How had he not had an hour special? There are plenty of comedians who I don't think are as good, who have had specials on Comedy Central whether 30 minutes or hour specials.
Well apparently I wasn't the only one who felt this way, as a documentary was done, by filmmaker Jay Kanzler, about Bob's career and his lack of a special called "Close but No Cigar", a reference to Bob always bringing on his trademark cigar with him on stage. The documentary is to chronicle the life and career of a comic that has, in his own words, achieved almost everything he wanted. That "almost" is the framing device around the various clips of comics talking about him, as well as vintage clips of him on The Gong Show making his debut as well as random short clips of him on the Star Search (where he beat out Carrot Top) and The Tonight Show, at Drew Carey's Roast as well as many of a teenage Zany before he became well known.
The documentary opens up with Habanera's "Tiger Club" playing over a long tracking shot of Bob walking through groups of people, and going backstage in what appears to be a show that he is about to perform. It then cuts to Bob talking about how he's accomplished pretty much everything he set out to do. "I've starred in movies, in TV shows. I hosted my own show on Comcast Comedy Spotlight. Rodney's Stand Up Special, I've been on every stand up comedy special imaginable, but I've never had my hour special." The person off camera, Jay Kanzler, I imagine, asked him why doesn't he just do it. Just do a show. Bob mentions that it costs money.
"You gotta do a 5 camera shoot, You gotta shoot it in high def, because, you know, all the kids love that. I mean. I don't know why you don't do it. I mean can't you do it?" Bob asks.
And that seems to be the light bulb moment of, 'Holy shit, maybe we can do this ourselves?'
Watching the documentary was a very fun experience, as I get to learn more about one of my favorite comedians, and there's a lot of funny things in there, as you have many well known comics who are interviewed and who tell various stories about being with Bob in the comedy clubs, and cracking jokes. Comedians including George Wallace, Kathleen Madigan, Frank Caliendo, Carrot Top, Todd Glass and Zany's wife and fellow comic Erin O'Connor. And many of them offered up their ideas of why Zany had never gotten a special, because the overwhelming feeling was that he should have had one by now.
One of those he spoke with was Neil Lieberman, who is a Comedy Coach. He talked with Bob about why he (Neil) felt that maybe Bob had never gotten a big public thing like an hour special. Lieberman felt there were two possible reasons. One, the name "Bob Zany". With a name like "Zany", he said, many in the power positions may have felt that the name was simply a gimmick. "You mean like Carrot Top and Whoopi Goldberg?" Bob quickly shot back.
The other reason was that Bob's style of comedy hearkens back to an older type. And that his older style mixed with topical humor, perhaps got in the way. Bob clearly is not buying these ideas. Bob mentioned how it used to be that the biggest launching pad for comics was an invite on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, in part, because the audience was so large due to there being very few alternatives for TV viewing.
By the time that Zany got his invite to the Tonight Show, hosted at that time by Jay Leno, there were many more alternatives and the impact of the appearance did not have the same gravitas or power as it may have simply a decade prior.
There's an old cliche, which happens to be true, that comedians are often tortured souls. That they are the ones who have been kicked around, belittled and just humiliated all their lives. They are the ones who were forced to adapt by adopting the mask of the "Class Clown" or the funny person to cover up their insecurities and to perhaps ward off or preempt verbal and/or physical attacks, by making their antagonists laugh.
If you can make them laugh, maybe they won't hurt you. Maybe they'll even be your friends. And who cares if rather than friends they're actually just "Friends"? If it stops the pain of being an outcast, then you do it. You slip that mask on of the happy-go-lucky person and you dance for the crowd.
You're dying inside, but on the outside you're just dancing the dance, and making people laugh. It's easy for those who don't truly know you to, over time, believe that mask is the real you.
Nothing, I think, exemplifies this type of tightrope walking, this balancing act between two emotions better than a segment at the end of the documentary.
All this time it's been building up to this special that he is doing at Galesburg, Illinois, and how he's finally getting to cross that thing off of his list, so to speak. So he does the show, it's great, and they market it to Showtime. The actual show is not depicted, just the opening minute as he walks out and takes it all in, and then saying "I've arrived, BayBee!"
For a lot of comics, and to those who perhaps are on the outside looking in, that's a symbol of achievement. When you've had your first hour long special. That's when you know you've made it. And the fact that Zany has never had one is, as I mentioned before, kind of baffling.
So at the end of the documentary, there's a moment where Bob is on the phone and is talking with someone who has confirmed that Showtime will not be picking up the special. And the look on his face and the sound of his voice is just heartbreaking because this was his moment, you know? So much time and effort, not to mention money, was spent putting this together, filming it in HD, and whatnot, and you get your hopes up about something.
While I'm not a comic I can certainly relate to that feeling. There are things in life in which you think are not in the cards and you're fine with that (to a point). It's easy to psych yourself out when you think something is unattainable, and you convince yourself that it's okay, even if it's not.
But then you're confronted with it and the chance that it might happen, and against your better judgement you allow yourself to hope. And that's the worst fucking thing to lose, is your hope.
So Bob's just got the phone call, and then he has a brief conversation with comedian Jimmy Pardo who alternates between jokes and condolences, and you can just see the frustration on Bob's face and in his voice. So much trouble was gone to for this, and they're like "oh, well, how about reshoot it and then we'll take a look at it."
Which kind of shows you how out of touch these assholes at the studios are. Sure, everyone has the time and money to just reshoot something, and rent the auditorium out, and pay for all the cameras and the crew, and etc, etc.
So Bob finishes up with Pardo and suddenly realizes he's gotta go on to do a comedy show, and he opens the door, raises his arms and is like "Hey! Bob Zany everyone!"
And just like that, the mask slips on, and none of those people are the wiser that just seconds before, that man who is so cheerful and happy, just got horrible news.
All in all, the documentary is a fascinating glimpse into the life of one of the more endearing and enduring comics still working today. Whether it's his weekly appearances on the Bob & Tom Show, or the seeming non-stop traveling he does to do comedy shows, or his comedy podcast he does with his wife Erin O'Connor, the man is nothing if not busy.
It's one of those things where you have so much going for you, will you allow that one thing you don't have, or haven't accomplished to overshadow all the things you have going for you. Will you allow that one thing that you view as a blemish on your career to totally invalidate all the countless things you HAVE accomplished that others could never dream of achieving?
It's not easy to do that. It's not easy to just turn that switch off and move on. Bob appears to be able to do that, although when he speaks of the elusive one hour special, you hear it in his voice that it's like the one that got away. It's yeah, my life is great, I have people that love me, fans that support me, and my health (knock on wood) but...it's that what if.
I'd like to think that Bob has made peace with it and fully appreciates what he has and what he's accomplished. I can only speak for myself when I say that I'm damn glad that Bob Zany is still doing what he's doing 30 years later. He's made me laugh so many times over the years, and allows me to not focus on the various fuckery that tries to invade my life, and just laugh with Bob. I imagine I'm not the only one that can say that.
I encourage everyone to check out the documentary which you can buy from Jay Kanzler's website. From what I understand, the documentary will be available in Digital Download format later this week. When it is, I'll update this post to include links for that.
Go to Bob Zany's official website where you can find out his tour dates, as well as buy some merchandise like CDS and Shirts.
Subscribe to his podcast by clicking HERE. It's a very funny 30 minute (thereabouts) podcast with various comics. Recent podcasts including Orny Adams (Coach on Teen Wolf), Jimmy Dore (The Jimmy Dore Show, The Young Turks) and Todd Glass (The Todd Glass Situation) and many more. It's FREE! Get on that!
And follow Bob on Twitter by clicking HERE and follow his funny and lovely wife Erin by clicking HERE.
NOTE: I was not compensated in any way, shape or form for this review.