Mark Champlin (Miles Chapin) is a fresh-faced, aspiring comedian from Cleveland who drives across the country, listening to tapes of Steve Martin. He arrives in Los Angeles, hoping to become a star. Despite being too naive and trusting, Mark starts to find success in the cut-throat entertainment industry. Soon, he is performing at the Funny Farm, a comedy club owned by Gail Corbin (Eileen Brennan, giving the exact same performance that Melissa Leo gave in Showtime’s I’m Dying Up Here). Mark befriends the other comedians, finds love, and hopes for his big break.
There have been several movies and television shows about the drama that goes on behind the scenes in the world of comedy. It’s rare that they ever turn out well. For every successful movie about the struggle to make a living by telling jokes, there are a hundred movies like Punchline or this one. Whereas Punchline tried to pass Sally Field off as an up-and-coming stand-up comic, The Funny Farm was full of actual comedians. Almost everyone in the film is playing a thinly disguised versions of themselves and snippets of their acts are used throughout the movie. (Probably the best known member of the cast is Howie Mandel.) Unfortunately, none of their acts seem to be very funny. Miles Chapin comes across like every forgettable comic who ever bombed on The Tonight Show.
Eileen Brennan does a good job as the club owner, even if she is underused. There is also a good scene where the younger comedians meet a legendary, older comic who turns out to be a racist asshole. During this scene, The Funny Farm actually has something to say about the way comedy progressed and changed over time. Otherwise, The Funny Farm is forgettable.