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Getting up in front of hundreds of people and performing is one of the most terrifying and exhilarating experiences of your life. You feel sick, your hands are shaking, your brain is racing around at a million miles an hour and your throat feels drier than it ever has before. Having been up on stage myself, I can relate a lot to Amazon Prime’s original series Inside Jokes. Following comedy hopefuls across LA and New York, this 6 episode series shows the progression from hopeful comic to performing at JFL, one of the world’s biggest comedy festivals.
With any sort of performance, people only see the end result. They don’t see the years of honing and polishing the material to get to that point. Step forward Inside Jokes which takes us on a journey from conceptualizing each joke to delivering it in such a way to get the best reaction from the crowd. The first episode shows the first group of comics in LA hoping to make it into the big time. JC Currais, Simon Gibson and MK all perform stand up at the same circuits and share a common, wacky style. Kellen struggles with juggling his family and his dream whilst Daphnique remains focused on the end result.
In New York, Rosebud Baker grapples with her own insecurities as she suffers a few poor sets while Robert Dean doubts his own ability after being rejected 8 times to get to JFL. Alzo Slade rounds out the three New Yorkers, experimenting with a more thought provocative style of comedy whilst being in a relationship with Rosebud. These first two epsidoes work well, introducing us to the comics we’ll be spending more time with, mixing parts of stand up routines with face to face interviews and a reality-TV style depicting their life away from the stage.
The characters themselves are surprisingly likable although with such different personalities on display, there are undoubtedly going to be people you naturally gravitate toward more. The over-the-top, loud, sporadic ramblings of comics like Simon Gibson aren’t my cup of tea but his unpredictable demeanor is one that’s likely to resonate with a certain audience. As a Brit, the dry, dark humour of Kellen and Rosebud were much more up my alley but that is ultimately what makes comedy such a fascinating and subjective art form.
After introducing us to the different comics, the rest of the episodes show the progression to being picked for JFL with cuts along the way and a whole new level of the game opening up as a 6 minute segment at the festival could change their lives. The various episodes work well, building toward an absorbing and well structured finale that allows us to see the comics’ final performance. This is by far the most satisfying part of the show and you feel nervous for these people as they step up infront of 800 people to perform their 6 minute set we’ve seen in various forms across the previous 5 episodes.
Despite the Reality TV format, Inside Jokes thankfully features no superficial drama. It doesn’t need it. The real charm here comes from seeing how these comics adapt and progress to the biggest stage of their lives. Expect plenty of repeated comedy material here though and whilst this does make the show much more effective, there will be some people turned off from the repetition. Still, Inside Jokes is a beautifully written show, one that ends on a high and hopefully leaves room for a second season to follow another group of comedy hopefuls trying to make it into the big time. It may not be the best documentary out there but Inside Jokes is a well written and absorbing show, one that helps solidify what a nervy and incredible experience performing on stage is.