All About Nina, opening this week, tells the story of Nina (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who takes her successful New York comedy career out to L.A. both to find even more fame but also to escape what had become an awkward relationship. The campaign makes it clear Nina’s comedy is drawn heavily from her personal life and indeed is even a way for her to deal with some issues she otherwise has problems expressing.
It’s far from the first movie to focus on stand-up comics and use the drama and comedy in their own lives to tell the story. Indeed it comes as the Amazon original series “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” which focuses on a budding comedian making her mark on the industry, continues to earn awards and praise. Here are six more that explore what it is that drives a person to stand on a stage and use the microphone as a form of self-expression, therapy or both.
Top Five (2014)
Chris Rock stars as a stand-up comic turned actor who’s trying to bring his career around in a more serious direction, something his reality-star wife isn’t a fan of. He’s followed around by a reporter (Rosario Dawson) doing a feature on him and her incessant, often uncomfortable questions cause him to reevaluate many of the decisions he’s made over the years and yearn for something more real and relatable.
Sleepwalk With Me (2012)
Mike Birbiglia co-wrote and co-directed this semi-autobiographical story of how he helped turn what had been a floundering stand-up career around. The secret, he finds, is allowing himself to get more intensely personal and using the audience as a sounding board for the problems he’s having in life, albeit with a humorous take.
Sally Field is a frustrated housewife who’s driven to become a successful stand-up comic but is having trouble breaking in. She finds inspiration and mentorship when she connects with another performer (Tom Hanks) who’s much more alive on stage than he is as a medical student, something his family is pushing him toward. The movie captures the mid-80s stand-up scene that gave rise to so many huge stars over the next decade, showing the life they lived of constant hustling and hoping for their big break to come.
Obvious Child (2014)
The career of the comic played by Jenny Slate is at a low point that matches what she’s going through personally. Things get even more complicated when she winds up pregnant after a one-night-stand with a nice guy but is determined not to have the baby.
Mr. Saturday Night (1992)
Buddy Young Jr. (Billy Crystal) is a comic who can’t stop getting in the way of his own success. While he’s a hit on the Catskills circuit, his tendency toward meanness keeps sabotaging every opportunity he’s given as he lashes out when he doesn’t get what he feels he deserves. While the movie has its flaws it does allow Crystal, as well as frequent collaborators Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel to go all-in on the kind of comedy they were clearly all inspired by.
This Is My Life (1992)
Nora Ephron directed (her first feature) and wrote this story of a single mother (Julie Kavner) who wants more than anything to be a successful comedian. She’s struggling to balance those aspirations with responsibilities toward her kids. But it’s a dream she won’t give up on, taking any opportunity she can to perform and demanding that just some of her life be given over to what she, not everyone around her, wants.