During a memorable early scene in Most Funniest, the outstanding fake documentary by Boise production company Revival Pictures, fledgling standup comedian Travis Schwartz (played with an extra "ch" by Revival co-founder Travis Swartz) succinctly explains his act to a comedy club manager. "I'm not like your typical club observational-type comedy," he says, "I'm like," and proceeds to erupt into a barrage of fart noises, dry heaves and animalistic moans. This seizurrific display, he promises to the blinking, incredulous manager, is not just a preview. It is, in fact, "comedy in its purest form."
Well sure, but is it funny? Not in a way seen very often in Boise. Swartz (the film's lead, writer, director and editor) and Revival partner Gregory Bayne (the visual and photographic director) have succeeded in crafting that rarest of indie treats: a local film that provides a fresh take on a worthy global trend. In this case, the trend is the plot-driven improv of television shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Office, as well as any number of Christopher Guest mockumentaries. The fresh take is Swartz himself, a one-man comedic wrecking ball whose neurotic blather is equal parts Larry David and the raving street-preacher who once tried to clamor into my cab in San Francisco. Just start him up, press record and edit him into coherence.
But again: Is it funny? Schwartz-the character-had better hope so. After all, he is the kind of comedian who, three weeks prior to his first show before a paying audience, has already: 1) hired a film crew to chronicle his rise to world domination; 2) thoughtfully cautioned his ex-wife that she may soon regret kicking him out when she sees his face on the side of a bus; 3) given a "three-week notice" to his boss at the used car lot; and 4) printed a stack of tickets to his first show-each ticket, he promises, with a "street value" of well over $100.
Schwartz's preparation for this show, a three-hour humdinger of skits, impressions and songs that he labels "The Launch," is ostensibly the focus of Most Funniest. Every time he randomly inflicts his comedy on a stranger-for instance, repeatedly telling a car lot customer, "I pooped my pants"-it is in preparation for The Launch. Every time he locks himself in a bathroom for hours on end, it is out of fear of The Launch. Every time he forces his spectacularly humorless brother (well portrayed by Nick Garcia) into a comedic training session-one of which involves a lesson in how to "talk retard"-it is to test out material for The Launch. As the date nears, comedy in its purest form gives way to hypochondria and bottles of Effexor, and we are treated to a new kind of nature film: The comedian in its natural state, teetering between hilarity and a total emotional meltdown.
But is it funny, for Loki's sake? Yes, finally, with the caveat that Swartz's tour de force performance is often sadly, grotesquely funny. His character, especially in the film's second half, generates awkward silences like a dog sheds hair-profusely, and the bastards are impossible to get rid of. Audience members who over-identify with the comic's ex-wife, brother and other onscreen victims may find sections of Most Funniest to be confusing and exhausting. But those perverse-or perhaps enlightened-enough to see the humor in people not laughing will find pleasures innumerable in the painful interchanges between Swartz and Garcia.
Similarly, any would-be artists who have ever feared that their ambition and energy outweigh their talent will see in Schwartz an all-too-familiar embodiment of all manner of narcissistic hang-ups. He is a spectacularly conflicted, entertaining character-just thank the gods you're not him. In its airtight dialogue, as well as in its ability to push the boundaries of audience comfort while never losing comedic steam, Most Funniest makes a strong case to be the best-executed feature yet to sprout from Boise's flourishing film scene. Don't be surprised if a few festival logos appear on its Web site in the coming year.
Revival Pictures presents a pair of special "work-in-progress" screenings of Most Funniest at The Flicks on March 20 at 5 and 7 p.m. Tickets are $10. View the trailer at www.mostfunniest.com.