Don’t call him Eddie.
Yeah, sure, comedian Jackie Burke spent a lot of his career as “Eddie,” a beloved policeman/beleaguered dad on network television. Thirty years later, people still love him for his most famous role. Never mind that Jackie has so much more to share with his audience these days, albeit mostly in the form of f- and s-words, as well as riffs about his and their sex lives.
But whatever. While his popularity may be diminished, Jackie still makes a living as a comedian, hopping from gig to gig, gag to gag. And while some in his audience may indeed gag on his material, others laugh. And that makes all those chants for “Eddie” just a little more bearable.
He can even deal with the hecklers. Most nights.
Heckling’s part of being a comedian, of course. Every comic’s got to put up with, and put down, the trolls. But one night, a heckler comes armed with a camera. Seems the guy’s got a gig of his own—a vodcast where he takes down local comedians during their acts and throws it online. For an old-school comedian who still thinks “going viral” means coming down with a nasty head cold, that’s just rude. He confronts the heckler, demands the camera and eventually punches him in the face with the microphone.
Jackie now has the world’s best-known insult-and-injury standup act—an act so popular that he gets a chance at an encore in court. The judge tells Jackie to apologize to the heckler and his wife. Jackie instead tells them and the court that they shouldn’t be allowed to breed. Off to jail he goes: a 30-day stint to be followed by 100 hours of community service.
Once he’s out of the clink, though, Jackie discovers something rather alarming. While there may still be an audience for a profane, disturbed, aging comic, there’s not so much of one for a profane, disturbed comic with a criminal record. Who knew? Just like that, his OK career is on life support. And given his age, Jackie’s probably not far behind.
But he does find a bright spot. Working his community time off in a soup kitchen, Jackie meets another, prettier person who got dinged for assault and battery. And while Harmony may be young enough to be his daughter, that doesn’t stop Jackie from envisioning a nice, lovely affair with the girl.
Or, at least, a good one-night stand.
[Spoiler Warning] I hate to slap a spoiler warning on our very first content section, but we really have no choice: The only decent thing that happens in this whole movie also happens at the very end.
Harmony and Jackie do indeed hook up, which leads to an incredibly unexpected pregnancy. And though that’s not positive, it is nice that Harmony decides to keep the baby. Initially, she was going to abort it, but she remembers how her own mother abandoned her when she was 4 years old. “I couldn’t make this baby feel unwanted the way I was,” she says. Jackie is conflicted at first: His own bad experiences as a father make him reluctant to be a father again (not that Harmony even wants him to be one). But eventually, he tells Harmony that he wants to be around for both mother and child for whatever they should need.
It’s a nice sentiment, I suppose, but given Jackie’s influence, perhaps the payoff (that we’ll get into below) is a little … lacking.
Jackie and Harmony work at the Apostles’ Soup Kitchen, which is set up in an old, very churchy church. Jackie keeps the homeless attendees laughing with his profane, obscene, bawdy shtick in the same sanctuary where crosses hang and biblical figures look down from their stained glass windows.
There’s a joke about the Catholic sexual abuse scandal. Jackie and his family are Jewish, leading to some Jewish jokes at a family wedding, where his niece, Brittany, is getting married. Speaking of which …
Brittany is getting married to another woman named Frankie. (Jackie, in an impromptu monologue, wonders whether she should be instead called “Butch.”) We see the couple dance and hold hands, and Jackie makes scads of ribald, politically incorrect jokes regarding their relationship. He offends about half the audience (including the bride’s mother) but makes Brittany and her partner squeal with laughter.
Jackie predicates most of his comedic patter around sex. It’s nearly impossible to detail every bit here. But between Jackie and his fellow comics, we hear scads of references to various kinds of sex, masturbation, pornography, homosexuality, ménage à trois, exotic dancing, prostitution, sexual abuse, incest and countless crude references and euphemisms to breasts and genitalia. Monogamy is belittled regularly, with long-term relationships seen by Jackie as something of a punishment.
All this tawdry, bawdy, purposely shocking humor culminates in an elementary school talent show where kids perform for their parents and grandparents. One little 8-year-old girl gets up and performs her own Jackie-inspired routine, wherein she crudely drops an anatomical double entendre and an f-bomb. Let me repeat: She’s 8 years old. The girl’s parents are outwardly disapproving but inwardly amused.
We see the bare backsides of male prisoners taking a shower. Harmony and Jackie have a one-night stand, which Harmony insists from the get-go “doesn’t mean anything.” We don’t see anything but a kiss and (the next morning) a shot of Jackie apparently naked in bed. (He’s mostly covered by sheets, but does seem to reach for something to cover his lower half before he gets out of bed.) Harmony wears a skin-tight dress to a wedding; Jackie wonders aloud how she’s able to fit into it. In Jackie’s old sitcom, a running gag involved Jackie’s effeminate young son: We see an old clip of that son, then 11, wearing a ballerina outfit. Jackie lies to Harmony’s father, telling him that they plan to start looking for a place to live together. We hear that Jackie has been divorced at least once.
As mentioned, Jackie punches a heckler with a microphone a couple of times. The confrontation leaves the man a bit bloodied. Later in court, his face sports a bruises and bandages, and he’s wearing a neck brace. (His lawyer insists that Jackie could’ve inflicted brain damage on his client—an argument that Jackie dismisses because of the lack of any evidence that the guy has a brain.)
Later, Jackie gets a gig hosting a sadistic reality show. A man strips down to his boxers and gets into a tub filled with crawdads, which pinch the man bloody. Jackie—in perhaps a singular moment of empathy—decides he’s had enough of the show and quits on the spot.
Someone dies of a heart attack during a comedic roast. Harmony and another woman nearly get into a physical fight, with Jackie and his brother, Jimmy, separating the two. Elsewhere we hear a joking reference to abortion.
More than 80 f-words and about 25 s-words. We also hear “a–,” “b–ch,” “b–tard,” “d–n,” “h—” and “p-ss”, along with just about every obscene reference you can think of for male and female body parts. (The c-word is also referenced once, but only as “the c-word.”) God’s name is misused about 10 times, a half dozen of those with the word “d–n.” Jesus’ name is abused thrice.
Characters drink wine, whiskey, martinis and other alcoholic beverages. No one ever seems to get completely drunk, but one scene shows Jackie and Harmony imbibing heavily.
Someone also smokes a cigarette. There are references to cocaine and meth in standup routines. We learn that Jackie’s son died from a drug overdose.
Jackie’s forced into a stand-up routine at a retirement home, where he launches into a long screed about bathroom activities. He then breaks into a scatological singalong with the retirees: The song, done to the tune of “Making Whoopie,” is changed into “Making Poopy.” Several other gags involve bathroom activities.
At the end of the movie, Jackie comes to a realization that all of his ex-wives were wrong: “Sometimes it really does pay to be a psychotic a–hole!” And that, in a nutshell, is the moral of The Comedian.
The Comedian is a terrible movie. Terrible, terrible, terrible.
Most movies, as I understand it, benefit from a plot. This has only an excuse for one. You could read this as a story of a comedian who searches for relevance and finds love instead. But he doesn’t find love, of course, just a one-night stand. And while I guess he does rediscover a sense of relevance thanks to the string of inane YouTube clips he unintentionally stars in, it’s hard to root for the career success of someone who is, in most respects, a really terrible human being.
Granted, the movie is about a quarter stand-up sketches. You don’t need a plot in a movie if the movie is mainly comedic shtick, do you? Toss a funny comedian in the mix, and maybe you’d have something. So naturally, the makers of the film grabbed … Robert de Niro? As much respect as I have for the legendary actor—and even an occasionally funny actor—he is no stand-up talent. Watching him play this morally reprehensible, foul-mouthed comedian is almost physically painful. This movie is as funny as a puppy with cancer.
If you’ve soldiered on this far in the review, you know by now that we can’t give this movie credit for keeping it clean or offering a decent message. It never tries to do so. Indeed, if there’s one thing this movie successfully does—and apparently on purpose—it is to run the other direction from any sort of uplift or inspiration or moral that we, here at Plugged In, could give a qualified thumbs-up to.
I really, really disliked The Comedian. And while as a Plugged In reviewer I sometimes cut against the grain of popular culture, I think this is a movie where most of America will be on the same page.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.