Why Do So Many Comedians’ Lives Finish in Tragedy?

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty

Photograph Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Day by day Beast/Getty

Darkish Aspect of Comedy is designed to be no laughing matter, turning a morose eye towards the saddest tales in trendy comedy historical past. Nonetheless, it might be good if the wittiness of its topics obtained a bit extra celebratory remedy on this spin-off of Darkish Aspect of the Ring (concerning the tragedies {of professional} wrestling) and Darkish Aspect of the ’90s (about that decade’s most infamous tabloid scandals). Because it stands, Vice’s 10-episode compendium of cautionary tales is stuffed with archival clips however shockingly mild on humor, tackling its materials in such ominous and melancholy vogue that the explanations for its stars’ renown wind up drowning in a sea of ​​horrors.

Premiering Aug. 16 and narrated by Dave Foley, Darkish Aspect of Comedy delivers on its nominal promise, delving into the underbelly of its chosen showbiz subject by way of installments on Chris Farley, Andrew Cube Clay, Freddie Prinze, Artie Lange, Maria Bamford, Roseanne Barr, Greg Giraldo, Brett Butler, and Richard Pryor. Although spanning a long time, genders and races, these exposés aren’t as various as they initially seem, largely quickly as a result of sure core commonalities emerge: childhood traumas; struggles with the sudden pressures and expectations of highlight success; exploitation and enabling perpetrated by an business that views its marquee attracts as merely money cows for use and discarded as wanted; and jaw-dropping substance abuse that in some circumstances led to suicide makes an attempt and/or demise. The impression imparted by these nightmares is that fame is an terrible curse that nobody ought to covet—intercourse, cash, and adoration be damned.

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Maybe nowhere is that lesson extra obvious than in Darkish Aspect of Comedy‘s sixth episode about Dustin Diamondrecognized the world over as Saved by the Bell‘s resident dork Screech. Diamond handed away from most cancers in 2021 on the age of 44, and but in showrunner Paul Taylor’s collection, that premature demise comes throughout as merely the ultimate injustice suffered by the actor. As recounted by his father Mark, childhood associates and colleagues, Diamond had it powerful from the get-go, creating a ardour to carry out for the digital camera as a toddler when he would entertain his older Down syndrome-afflicted brother Ryan. The melancholy that gripped him within the wake of Ryan’s demise was offset by his love of performing, and earlier than lengthy, Mark was relocating his clan to Los Angeles to pursue his son’s thespian desires, which have been realized when Diamond nabbed the function of the perpetually goofy Screech on the Disney Channel present that may evolve into Saved by the Bell.

Making it to the highest was at first nice for Diamond, however doing in order a decidedly uncool and embarrassing clown took its toll, and it is not lengthy earlier than Darkish Aspect of Comedy is miring itself in Diamond’s post-sitcom travails, which have been nearly wholly pushed by his need to recast himself because the polar reverse of his iconic character. A porn video, profane stand-up routines, and a villainous activate VH1’s Movie star Match Membership all served as useless Diamond makes an attempt to rewrite his persona in grownup phrases, main solely to additional ignominy and hassle, peaking with a bar combat that landed him behind bars. What emerges is a well-recognized if however miserable research of the pitfalls of reaching long-coveted desires.

Related portraits are painted by the opposite episodes of Darkish Aspect of Comedy, whose recurring components are all present in its chapter on Richard Pryor. Commonly crushed by his father and raised in a brothel the place he was uncovered to all method of grownup sexual exercise at a younger age, Pryor’s upbringing was a horror present that fueled his comedic ascension, which was marked by a number of transformations—notably, from a “ food regimen Invoice Cosby” funnyman who strove to attraction to white audiences, to a candid, race-addressing pioneer—and, infamously, by extreme and inescapable drug dependancy. Pryor’s cocaine behavior was a byproduct of his private demons and exacerbated by his stardom, since few wished to derail the gravy practice by confronting him about his issues—a scenario that additionally wreaked havoc for Freddie Prinze, whose style for quaaludes and blow wasn’t handled by his employers at NBC’s Chico and the Manand in the end contributed to him taking his life on the age of simply 22.

Darkish Aspect of Comedy in its predecessors’ formal footsteps, mixing interviews with associates, relations, admirers and collaborators (to not point out the occasional psychologist) with follows previous clips of its comedians acting on movie, stage, tv applications, speak exhibits and radio, all of which is additional embellished by previous images, newspaper headlines, and information reviews of their misdeeds and misfortunes. The collection moreover makes use of the franchise’s trademark dramatic recreations, though they show considerably ill-fitting on this context; whereas such sequences are enlivening in Darkish Aspect of the Ring exactly as a result of they improve these topics’ mythic larger-than-life aura, they fail to do likewise in Darkish Aspect of Comedycoming throughout as unconvincing and perfunctory thrives that might have simply as simply been left on the slicing room flooring.

Within the ultimate tally, nonetheless, what’s lacking from Darkish Aspect of Comedy are humorous or eye-opening anecdotes that may’t in any other case be discovered on a Wikipedia web page, or distinctive essential insights into its narratives. The sight of Artie Lange’s now-deformed nostril, the results of a drug binge gone awry, is bound to stun those that hadn’t adopted the previous MADtv and The Howard Stern Present comic’s latest hardships, however such moments are few and much between throughout this ten-part affair. It is good, for instance, to listen to former castmates like Orlando Jones and Debra Wilson converse fondly and sympathetically about Lange, but there’s nothing to be gleaned right here that is not on-line, making the proceedings extra of a diverting rehash than an indispensable investigation. Simply as irritating, a number of the profiled comedians who’re alive do not take part, which leaves their biographical installments feeling basically incomplete.

Nonetheless, Vice now has this basic darkish aspect formulation down pat, and the spectacular roster of speaking heads featured on this first season (from Patton Oswalt and Marc Maron to Scott Thompson and the late Gilbert Gottfried) retains it moderately entertaining all through—even whether it is mild on notable revelations.

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