“I’M DYING UP HERE” ON SHOWTIME
A Film Review by Tim Riley
Author and journalist William Knoedelseder wrote a book about the comedy club scene in 1970s Los Angeles, where the best-known venue for the discovery of new talent was at Mitzi Shore’s Comedy Store on the Sunset Strip. Taking its name from the book, Showtime’s “I’m Dying Up Here” is a thinly-veiled disguise of the real story, and as such, Melissa Leo’s Goldie, the hard-charging owner of Goldie’s comedy club also located on the Strip, rules with an iron fist that seems vaguely familiar to the truth.
Unlike the book, the cast members, all vying to get stage time in the Main Room, are fictionalized characters, allowing for a lot of creative leeway in fleshing them out. The first episode has the stand-out character of Clay Appuzzo (Sebastian Stan).To the encouragement as well as resentment of his fellow comics at Goldie’s, Clay not only gets to perform on “The Tonight Show,” but Johnny Carson (Dylan Baker) calls him over to the couch after his routine, a sure sign of approbation that marks a career turn.
“I’m Dying Up Here” focuses a lot on the dark side of the business. Clay doesn’t make it to the second episode, but his spirit hangs over the other comics, particularly ex-girlfriend Cassie (Ari Graynor), the lone female in the group who struggles to break the “glass ceiling.” Meanwhile, a pair of Boston comics, Eddie (Michael Angarano) and Ron (Clark Duke), shows up penniless in Los Angeles and end up suffering the indignity of living in the closet of another Goldie’s regular.
Seeing that the series is structured as an ensemble, the aspiring comics, all vying for stage time, include the hot-tempered Edgar (Al Madrigal), the Vietnam war veteran Ralph (Erik Griffin), who helps to moderate showcases, and the embittered Bill (Andrew Santino).Getting a shot on a TV show, Bill has to contend with his judgmental father (Robert Forster) and oblivious mother (Cathy Moriarty). Meanwhile, young newcomer Adam (RJ Cyler) has even greater challenges that veer into uncomfortable sexual abuse territory.
Showtime provided the first six one-hour episodes of “I’m Dying Up Here” for review. Only the first two hours have been considered here, but I’m not dying to finish the rest just now.