When Stand-Up Stood Out

You don’t need to be from Boston to appreciate When Stand Up Stood Out, the film by comedian Fran Solomita about the late 1970s and early 1980s, when Boston was, in fact, the Hub of the comedy world (or so it seemed). Think of Boston comedy in that era as something akin to Seattle music in the early 1990s. So, actually, this movie makes even more sense for outsiders, who probably don’t know or don’t appreciate what these locals with the funny accents and bitterly honest takes on society did for stand-up comedy. Sure, it’s quite nostalgic for those who, like Solomita, lived through the era.

Simply put, though, this film is required viewing. Watch Comedian to see the mindset of stand-ups, then watch When Stand Up Stood Out for a history lesson on what it was (and still is) like to practice the art. The archival footage alone is priceless, capturing early sets by Lenny Clarke, Bobcat Goldthwait, Kevin Meaney, Steven Wright, Paula Poundstone and others. Solomita said they got more than 100 hours of similar magic from the Ding Ho, Stitches and the old Comedy Connection. That footage needs to be saved by someone, somewhere, so future generations can learn why comedy matters. The DVD also includes a seven-minute conversation with Dane Cook — who wasn’t part of this generation — about how the older guard inspired him. Yes, this is pandering to consumers, but we’ll let it slide. DVD extras include additional performances from Wright, Goldthwait, Clarke, Kenny Rogerson and Don Gavin as well as classic examples of "Meaney on the Street" skits that occurred live on Commonwealth Avenue.

Solomita is now working for NBC in on-air promotions. He credited Doug Miller, a former employee of Boston’s Ch. 5, for liking comedy enough to shoot all of those hundreds of hours of footage. As for the comics, Solomita said: "Back then, they didn’t care, and then in the interviews, they were very forthcoming and honest. It made it less slanted. It let them talk about themselves." The distance in time also affected his nostalgia for 1970s stand-up. "Abbie Hoffman once said something to the effect of nostalgia is a mild form of depression, which I think is a great line…I realized when I got out (to L.A.) and started to hit middle age and was doing some comedy writing, that the beginning was a very special time…also the world landscape was different. This Boston scene happened in a bubble. I felt if somebody didn’t do something about it, it’d just be something for 20 guys, for 60 guys to talk about and have a beer about."

What can new comedians learn? "I think it’s tougher for the comics today," Solomita told me. "There are some really funny people out there. It’s tougher to get stage time, but in cities like New York and Boston, Seattle, Chicago and some of the smaller cities, you can still do it. You have to be hungrier. You have to be nimble…you have to do cafes and other venues…you have to be more flexible."

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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