Comedians (1979, directed by Richard Eyre)

“Laugh, you buggers, laugh!”

Set in Manchester, Comedians is about a group of working class men who are enrolled in an evening class for aspiring comedians.  Sammy Samuels (Linal Haft) and Mick Connor (David Burke) both tell jokes about being a member of a minority in England.  (Sammy is Jewish while Mick is Irish.)  George McBrain (Derrick O’Connor) works on a loading dock and tells stereotypically racist and sexist jokes.  Phil and Ged Murray (James Warrior and Edward Peel) are brothers and a tense comedy team.  Phil is desperate to become a star and escape Manchester while Ged is more laid back.  Finally, Gethin Price (Jonathan Pryce) is an aggressive comedian who is willing to take risks on stage.  Teaching the class is Eddie Water (Bill Fraser), a veteran comic who was a star during World War II but who has since faded into obscurity.  Gethin says that he’s lost his edge.

Bert Challenor (Ralph Nossek), a retired stand-up and an old colleague of Eddie’s, is in town.  Challenor is now the President of the Comedy Federation and he is scouting new talent.  Eddie’s class will be performing, between games, at a bingo hall.  Before the performance, Eddie admonishes all of them to stay true to themselves and to not pander to the audience with cheap, racist, or sexist jokes.  However, when Challenor drops by the class, he gives the comedians the opposite advice.  He tells them that getting laughs is the most important thing and the only way to do that is to make the audience like you.  Stick to the acceptable targets, move quickly from one joke to the next, and don’t make any of your humor too personal.

The bingo hall performance is the highpoint of Comedians.  Each student performs and each one has to make their own decision whether to follow Challenor’s advice or to stay true to what Eddie told them.  Some sell out and some don’t.  One act implodes on stage.  The bravest performance of the night is greeted by stony silence from the audience.  Each performance allows a look into the mind of the man telling the jokes, even the ones who are trying to hide behind Challenor’s advice.  After the performance, the students return to the classroom and consider what they’ve done and they’ve become.  Challenor comes to the class to offer some of the comedians a contract while dismissing the others as not being ready or worthy of his time.

Comedians started life as a play by Trevor Griffiths.  It opened in London in 1975, where it was directed by Richard Eyre.  Just as he would in the eventual film, Jonathan Pryce played the role of Gethin Price.  When the play moved to Broadway in 1976, Mike Nichols took over as director and Pryce was the only actor to make the transition from New York to London.  Pryce would go on to win his first Tony for his performance in Comedians.  In 1979, when Comedians was filmed for the BBC’s Play For Today, Richard Eyre returned to direct and Pryce, again, played the role of Gethin Price.

As a debate about what makes comedy “good,” Comedians feels especially relevant today.  The debate about how comedians should view their audience and the role that comedy should play in an unstable world is still going on today.  As opposed to the current argument that comedy should always “punch up,” Challenor encourages all of the students to punch down and to get laughs by appealing to the prejudices of the audience.  As Challenor suggests when giving his notes to the students, it’s more important to get laughs than to actually be funny.  As unsympathetic a character as Challenor is, Comedians does acknowledge that the students who got those easy laughs are also the same ones who going to escape the drudgery of working dead end jobs in Manchester.  Comedians like Gethin Price may stay true to themselves but they’ll also probably never become a star.

Very much a filmed version of a theatrical production, Comedians is undeniably stagey.  But the dialogue and the themes remains sharp and Pryce’s performance is still electrifying.  Unfortunately, several of the BBC’s Play For Today productions have been lost or destroyed but Comedians survived and can be viewed on YouTube.

Retro Television Reviews: Hang Time 2.9 “Style Before Substance” and 2.10 “Son-On-Law”

Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past!  On Mondays, I will be reviewing Hang Time, which ran on NBC from 1995 to 2000.  The entire show is currently streaming on YouTube!

I’ll always  remember …. me and my friends at Hang Time!

Episode 2.9 “Style Before Substance”

(Directed by Patrick Maloney, originally aired on November 2nd, 1996)

This episode opens with Julie and the basketball team at the diner and getting angry because the football team is in their booth.

“That’s our booth!” Julie says, “We’re the champions!”

Strangely, Josh agrees with her.  Remember how Josh almost walked off the team because he thought they were too obsessed with winning?  Remember how Josh was all about sportsmanship and humility?  I guess that all got tossed out the window once he started dating Julie.  And another thing — when did Julie become so stuck up?  During the first season, Julie was confident but she wasn’t full of herself.  This season, the writers aren’t doing her character any favors.

Needless to say, this all leads to a series of increasingly stupid competitions to decide which team gets to …. sit in the booth, I guess.  I’m not really sure what they were fighting about but then again, I’ve never played team sports.  Occasionally, I play tennis with my sister.  I’ve never won a game but I look good in a tennis skirt so it all works out.

While this is going on, Amy is volunteering for the mayoral campaign of Robert Kent.  Robert Kent is an obviously sleazy politician who says that he cares about the environment.  (To be honest, he reminded me of Beto O’Rourke).  Amy has a crush on Robert and is devastated to discover that he’s lying about being an environmentalist.  It turns out that he supports industrial development.

“Some of the money can be used to clean up the environment,” says Kent.

“But we wouldn’t need to clean it if you didn’t mess it up in the first place!” Amy whines while the audience goes crazy over the most shallow argument possible.

The good thing about this episode is that it portrayed politicians as being sleazy.  That said, I had to laugh at the sight of all the adults listening as Danny and Amy told them how to vote for.  In the end, Danny and Amy’s efforts proved to be futile as Kent won and probably proceeded to personally bulldoze their favorite park.

Episode 2.10 “Son-In-Law”

(Directed by Patrick Maloney, originally aired on November 9th, 1996)

The team is freaking out because they have to win a game against an undefeated team if they have any hopes of making it to the playoffs.  Coach Fuller invites a real basketball player to stiffly deliver some words of encouragement to the team.  Hang Time was big on getting actual basketball players to make cameo appearances and I imagine that was good for the show’s ratings.  But, for the most part, none of the basketball players could actually act so the scene featuring them are often incredibly dull.

Meanwhile, Mary Beth is angry at her father for ignoring her so she dates Vince just to annoy him.  But then she suddenly decide that she actually does like Vince which …. NO!  NO!  NO!  Mary Beth is a thousand times too cool to go out with someone as boring as Vince!  WHAT ARE YOU DOING, HANG TIME!?

The Eric Roberts Collection: Top Gunner (dir by Daniel Lusko)

In this 2020 film from The Asylum, Eric Roberts stars as Col. Herring.

Herring is in charge of an Air Force training base that sits off the coast of Baja California.  He’s tough and he’s no-nonsense but he also truly loves the pilots that are training under his guidance.  Sparrow (Carol Anne Watts), Cowboy (Ignacyo Matynia), and Spielman (Julian Cavett) might just be recent graduates from the Academy who have never actually served in combat but Herring is convinced that they can be amongst the best of the best.  As he puts it, they can be …. Top Gunner!

They get a chance to prove themselves when an advanced airplane carrying a U.S. black ops group makes an emergency landing at the base.  As Lassen (Reavis Dorsey) explains it, he and his people have just stolen a chemical weapon from the Russians and now, the Russians are desperate to get it back.  The weapon is continually referred to as being the CRISPR.  The word “CRISPR” is used about a hundred times over the course of this movie.  “We have to get the CRISPR!” various characters say.  The problem is that CRISPR sounds more like a name for a hamburger grill than a dangerous chemical weapon.  Seriously, who wouldn’t want to use the CRISPR to prepare dinner?  The CRISPR grills up the best burgers!

With the Russians heading towards the base, it falls on the untested pilots to take to the air and fight them off.  At first, no one has much confidence in the pilots.  Even the pilots themselves aren’t sure that they can defeat the Russians.  But you know who never loses faith?  Colonel Herring.  The Colonel may be a stern taskmaster but he believes in his pilots!

As you’ve probably already guessed, Top Gunner was meant to be a mockbuster of Top Gun: Maverick.  However, because the release of Top Gun: Maverick was continually delayed by the COVID lockdowns, Top Gunner was actually released on video a full two years before Maverick made it into theaters.  That makes it all the more interesting that Top Gunner is all about preventing an enemy nation from using a chemical weapon that, we’re told, could cause a pandemic if released upon humanity.  In a world where COVID didn’t (allegedly) escape from that lab and cause the world to come to a halt, Top Gunner‘s story would probably be described as being implausible.  However, in our current pandemic culture, it’s tempting to look at the pilots in a film like Top Gunner and say, “Where were you when we needed you?”

As you’ve probably already guessed, the budget of Top Gunner was nowhere close to the budget for Top Gun or Top Gun: Maverick.  As opposed to those two films, one never gets the feeling that the pilots in Top Gunner are actually flying their planes or risking their lives to get the shot.  The film’s plot also never makes a whole lot of sense.  But the action moves quickly and, as always, Eric Roberts is fun to watch.  His hair is perhaps a bit too long for an Air Force colonel and there are a few times when he seems to be struggling to hide his amusement at some of his dialogue.  But, for the most part, Roberts delivers his lines with the proper amount of authority.  At last count, Eric Roberts has over 700 credits to his name.  Top Gunner is certainly not the best film that Roberts has ever appeared in but it’s not the worst either.  Mostly, it’s a film just makes you happy that, no matter what else happens, Eric Roberts endures.

Previous Eric Roberts Films That We Have Reviewed:

  1. Star 80 (1983)
  2. Blood Red (1989)
  3. The Ambulance (1990)
  4. The Lost Capone (1990)
  5. Love, Cheat, & Steal (1993)
  6. Love Is A Gun (1994)
  7. Sensation (1994)
  8. Doctor Who (1996)
  9. Most Wanted (1997)
  10. Mr. Brightside (2004)
  11. Six: The Mark Unleased (2004)
  12. Hey You (2006)
  13. In The Blink of an Eye (2009)
  14. The Expendables (2010) 
  15. Sharktopus (2010)
  16. Miss Atomic Bomb (2012)
  17. Lovelace (2013)
  18. Self-Storage (2013)
  19. Inherent Vice (2014)
  20. Rumors of War (2014)
  21. A Fatal Obsession (2015)
  22. Stalked By My Doctor (2015)
  23. Stalked By My Doctor: The Return (2016)
  24. The Wrong Roommate (2016)
  25. Stalked By My Doctor: Patient’s Revenge (2018)
  26. Monster Island (2019)
  27. Seven Deadly Sins (2019)
  28. Stalked By My Doctor: A Sleepwalker’s Nightmare (2019)
  29. The Wrong Mommy (2019)
  30. Her Deadly Groom (2020)
  31. Just What The Doctor Ordered (2021)
  32. Killer Advice (2021)
  33. The Poltergeist Diaries (2021)
  34. My Dinner With Eric (2022)

Monday Live Tweet Alert: Join Us For Highlander and Rush Hour!

As some of our regular readers undoubtedly know, I am involved in hosting a few weekly live tweets on twitter.  I host #FridayNightFlix every Friday, I co-host #ScarySocial on Saturday, and I am one of the five hosts of #MondayActionMovie!  Every week, we get together.  We watch a movie.  We tweet our way through it.

Tonight, for #MondayActionMovie, the film will be 1986’s Highlander!  Selected and hosted by @Titus88Titus, Highlander is about immortal people who keep chopping off each other’s heads.  It’s on YouTube.


Following #MondayActionMovie, Brad and Sierra will be hosting the #MondayMuggers live tweet.  Tonight’s movie, starting at 10 pm et, will be 1998’s Rush Hour, starring Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker.


It should make for a night of intense viewing and I invite all of you to join in.  If you want to join the live tweets, just hop onto twitter, start Highlander at 8 pm et, and use the #MondayActionMovie hashtag!  Then, at 10 pm et, switch over to Netflix, start Rush Hour, and use the #MondayMuggers hashtag!  The live tweet community is a friendly group and welcoming of newcomers so don’t be shy.  And reviews of these films will probably end up on this site at some point over the next few weeks.