Comedy takes spotlight in ‘Moodys,’ ‘Hysterical’

Rick's Reviews

Sherri Shepherd (left) sits with “Hysterical” director Andrea Nevins. (Photo courtesy of FX)

(KGET) — Comedy is at the heart of two new offerings from FOX and the FX cable channel. Denis Leary brings his raw style of generating laughs to a new season of “The Moodys” starting 9 p.m. April 1 (no fooling) on FOX while some of the top female comedians working today talk about the struggles they have faced with the FX special “Hysterical” debuting at 9 p.m. April 2.

Both programs are hitting the airwaves at a time when what people say is being picked apart, weighed and measured. This is creating a major challenge for comedians – very much like Leary – who have never been afraid to speak their comedic minds.

“It’s an unfortunate fact, if you are famous and you are known for something, whether it’s me or Colin Quinn or Amy Schumer or whoever it might be, you know, what comes out of your mouth, if it’s expected to be edgy, you get a little bit more leeway,” Leary says. “What I find is that the younger comedians are having a harder time, both male and female, because they do feel limited, and they do feel like, as they are writing or as they are on stage, improvising within the moment on a subject, that they need to pull themselves back because everybody has got phones and everybody is going to tweet about it afterwards and it could basically stop their career.

“I don’t know the solution to that problem.  There’s certainly ‑‑ in terms of doing a show like this, we are basically dealing with a family dynamic.  So even within some of the written stuff, we find ourselves having to pull back a little bit, but that’s not because we are worried about what it might mean in five years.  We are purely dealing with what we can get away with within the window on television that we are dealing with.”

Leary’s return to the family comedy world has “The Moodys” picking up with Sean Sr. (Leary) contemplating road trips across the country in an RV with Ann (Elizabeth Perkins) while Sean Jr. (Jay Baruchel) takes over the family HVAC business. Bridget (Chelsea Frei), who is in the middle of a divorce, returns home while her townhouse is being renovated and Dan (Francois Arnaud) leaves Brooklyn for Chicago to live with his girlfriend only to realize the relationship is moving too quickly.

The fact the comedy series deals with family issues is seen as a benefit by Leary. He believes that anyone – like him – who has grown children has lived a life filled with positive and negative events. He’s just trying to show the humor in those kinds of events and not make any type of political statement.

How the current political climate plays into standup comedy is examined in “Hysterical.” The FX documentary from director Andrea Nevins looks at how female comics were already facing major obstacles in a male dominated business and how it has gotten even more complicated. It includes interviews with Kelly Bachman, Margaret Cho, Fortune Feimster, Rachel Feinstein, Marina Franklin, Nikki Glaser, Kathy Griffin, Jessica Kirson, Lisa Lampanelli, Wendy Liebman, Carmen Lynch, Bonnie McFarlane, Sherri Shepherd, Iliza Shlesinger and Judy Gold.

Gold has seen a lot of changes in the comedy world during her almost four decades as a standup comedian and actor.

“Things that were funny then, because of the way we’ve evolved, aren’t as funny now. If you take the way we think now and apply it to some comedy from 30 years ago, you’ll say, ‘Oh, that’s not funny. Why are they laughing?’ It was a different world,” Gold says. “I personally never really edited myself, but my rule is that you can talk about anything, any topic no matter how horrible as long as it’s funny. You have to craft a joke about it. You can’t just spew racial epithets or stereotypes. You need to use them wisely.

“And, also, if you are talking about something horrible that happened and you are crafting a joke about it, it doesn’t take away the sadness and the horror. It actually acknowledges that it happened. A joke is a buildup of tension and then a release, and oftentimes people – I think it’s going to happen with COVID – are so tense, and they want a release. They want to laugh. They want to say, ‘Oh, I needed that.’ It doesn’t make you a bad person. It doesn’t cheapen whatever the topic is.”

Even before the current political climate, female comedians had to be funny while dealing with the realities of being paid less than their male counterparts and given fewer opportunities on stage. They painfully joke that when three female comedians are scheduled to appear at the same time it’s considered a special event. That’s because it is rare that more than one female comedian will be booked into a club or concert at a time.

Sherri Shepherd says the added problem today is not having the freedom that comics had years ago. Many comedians are now apologizing for jokes they made decades ago.

“It’s always an evolution of being a stand-up comic. You said what you said in the past because that’s where you were then. What I find very troubling now for comics is we are not allowed to say anything,” Shepherd says. “You get on that stage, and that was the thing. With comics, we were the one that told the emperor that he was not wearing any clothes. And we were the ones that were allowed to get on stage and say something.”

If you miss “Hysterical” when it airs April 2 on FX, it will be available through FX on Hulu on April 3.

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