Review: The Comedy

Tim Heidecker stars in a new film that's 'a relentless test of tolerance if you’re up for it.' But is that a good thing?

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

Honestly, I cannot tell the difference between the jokes in The Comedy and Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie. Their schtick is the same. It’s not funny, yet carrying on endlessly as if it were. However, in The Comedy (available now on VOD and in theaters Nov. 9), it actually has a point, so that is the difference between this film and their usual schtick.


Swanson (Tim Heidecker) is a privileged son of wealth, so he doesn’t work or contribute to society. More than that though, he seems to resent the world. He hangs out with his friends (including Eric Wareheim) babbling incoherently or making trouble for people around him. The thing is he’s not quite criminal, he’s just a troublemaker so it’s not like anyone can call the cops on him.

Apparently, this is a movie about hipsters. The Sundance Film Festival guide and current press materials describe Swanson and his gang as hipsters. If I had not read that, “hipster” would not be the word I thought of to describe them. When people abuse others, act annoying on purpose and disrespect the world, I call that something else. We can’t print the full word here, but it’s A-hole for short. Perhaps the diagnostic term is sociopath.

So what do Swanson and Co. do that’s so bad? Well, just sitting there spewing nonsense gibberish just to make sounds is obnoxious. Maybe somebody’s trying to work. Maybe somebody just wants to be alone and quiet. Maybe I’m being a party pooper. Okay, so how about talking dirty to a sister-in-law who’s handling hospital formalities while you’re just sitting around? That’s pretty insensitive. Still tolerant of this behavior? Okay, paying a cab driver to switch places, so you can drive the cab and get him in trouble, that’s disruptive. Yes, the cabbie should have enough self-respect to say no, but Swanson still comes from a bad place.

In no situation would this schtick be funny. However in certain situations it’s downright disrespectful, so that is a point to documenting it in a film. When they’re disturbing worshippers in church, or pushing people’s buttons while they’re caring for ailing loved ones, that’s aggressively hurting people. Acting out for attention is not okay, but acting out and hurting people is worse.

But, if that’s too deep for you, there’s still the usual Tim and Eric behavior. You don’t have to think about the context. I mean, Tim pours beer in someone’s butt and they spit beer on each other and get naked. If you just want to see Tim and Eric act up, they’re still doing it.

It’s also shot really well. The camera is always steady, elegant even, as it follows Swanson around. It barely even goes handheld, which is the general aesthetic of indie films shot on small cameras, run and gun. When it’s handheld, they hold it darnn steady so it always looks good.

I totally understand the extreme negative reaction to The Comedy at Sundance. It is a relentless test of tolerance if you’re up for it. I would hope this movie would be a lesson to the Swansons of the world. Hold a mirror up to them. This is what you look like. Don’t be this guy. Or, maybe showing a guy so relentlessly unredeeming is a cynical take on the problem of emotional detachment in privileged society. That’s also a fascinating perspective.