Funny people: Comedy about comedians

By Gen Terblanche29 February 2024

Funny people: Comedy about comedians

There’s a famous joke that comes up in every movie or documentary about comedians: 

A man goes to his doctor looking for help with his terrible, lifelong depression. And the doctor advises him to take his mind off things by doing what he does himself – going to see the great clown, Pagliacci. The man promptly bursts into tears and when the doctor asks him why, he wails, “Doctor, I am Pagliacci.” The funny part happens when he sees the doctor’s bill for the consultation.  

Two new series on Showmax, Bupkis and Funny Woman, are here to explore the Pagliacci problem. And they’ll pull open the door on the clown car to spill out some of the funny little things that happen to (and around) us when we try to make people laugh.  


Bupkis is on Showmax

When real-life stand-up comedian Pete Davidson landed a job on Saturday Night Live, it was a dream come true. But it turns out the joke is on him. The spotlight spills over into his private life, exposing family tragedies, addiction issues, his dating adventures and public discussion of his appearance.  

Bupkis, written by Pete Davidson, Judah Miller and Dave Sirius, is a heightened (and frequently absurd) version of Pete’s life at work, at home, and in rehab. Much like Pete’s first film, The King of Staten Island, this is a tale inspired by life rather than a documentary. Along the way it tries to answer questions like “Why does Pete Davidson get to do comedy?” (outraged), “Why is she dating Pete Davidson?” (horrified), “What’s wrong with Pete Davidson?” (accusatory), and “Why do people hate Pete Davidson?” (explanatory). 

What’s in the Bupkis clown car? 

People get angry when you’re not who you think they are.  

People love comedians. But along with that love comes a certain sense of entitlement. During the series Pete and comedian John Mulaney (his colleague at SNL) riff on the problems they have when people react with betrayal as soon as they find out the real comedian is not the same as their stage persona.  

Bupkis plays around with the distinctions between Pete Davidson the private person, Pete Davidson the stand-up comedian, the “Scumbro” persona Pete adopts in sketches, and the Pete Davidson created by popular media – a maliciously comedic reflection of the real Pete. Bupkis pits the versions of Pete against each other so we can see where the distortions come in, and how one “Pete” impacts the other.  

Simon Rex as Ice Pop, Pete Davidson as Pete Davidson in Bupkis S1

Throughout the show Pete worries about everyone seeing him as a joke. The persona with the most potential to cause damage, psychologically and professionally, is the one that Pete himself has the least control over: the popular media version that’s allowed to follow him around relentlessly like a bully with a microphone. Pete’s mental instability and drug use both leave him vulnerable to believing that he is this worst version of himself.  

Added to this, Pete’s life in the spotlight makes him a target. Having someone constantly tamper with your Wikipedia page is bad enough. But in one episode Pete’s loving mom Amy (Edie Falco) is beside herself when she reads in the news that her son has passed, and she can’t contact Pete because his phone battery has died. There’s a special cruelty to his death being in the news as Amy lost her husband and Pete lost his dad, a fireman, during 9/11. The incident is partly inspired by a real-life moment when rapper Kanye West reacted to Pete dating Kim Kardashian by posting a fake New York Times front page announcing the death of “Skete Davidson” on his social accounts.  

Bupkis seems like a nightmare of a life, but the comedian himself has the last word, and a lifetime of experience spinning the darkest threads in his life into comedy. He’ll even sing about it. 

Stream Bupkis on Showmax now. New episodes on Mondays. 

Funny Woman 

Funny Woman on Showmax

Blackpool beauty queen Barbara Parker (Gemma Arterton) tries to make it as a comic actress in London at the height of the Swinging Sixties in Funny Woman. Under the stage name Sophie Straw, she steals the spotlight as the character Barbara in the smash-hit TV series Jim and Barbara to the point that the title later changes to Barbara (and Jim). 

This comedy-drama series is adapted from Nick Hornby’s bestselling novel Funny Girl by comedian Morwenna Banks (Slow Horses, and the voice of Peppa Pig’s Mommy Pig). 

What’s in the Funny Woman clown car? 

Funny Woman reveals just how much energy the people making comedy have to pour into pushing back against other people who aren’t particularly interested in comedy, like broadcaster TED’s head of light entertainment, Ted Sargent (Alistair Petrie). Alas, it’s called the entertainment industry for a reason and as with most industries, the people holding the purse strings tend to be skittish of anything they don’t understand, anything too new, or anything they fear will alienate the public – all the nooks and crannies in which comedy sets up home. To get anything past them, you have to be able to sell ideas in an incredibly specific way, stick to your guns, and be slick with a little improvisation.  

Gemma Arterton stars as Barbara Parker in Funny Woman

The series also explores how instinct, inspiration, spontaneity and back and forth between writers and performers creates real comedy on the fly, and how much people are willing to throw out existing pages the moment that they hit a joke that works and they want to run with it. It spotlights all the ways that everyone on set can make or break a funny moment by being out of place for a shot, or out of step with the spirit of the show. And it reveals how much point of view matters, as people’s personal backgrounds and experience contribute to spotting the humour in a situation and making it work on screen. Above all, Funny Woman explores comedy as an act of faith. If you keep picking at it, it’ll never work. 

Stream Funny Woman on Showmax now. New episodes on Thursdays. 

Read more about Funny Woman.

More comedy about comedians 

Curb Your Enthusiasm 

Curb Your Enthusiasm on Showmax

If our worst social impulses were stitched together and brought to life to stagger chaotically through Hollywood, that monster would be Larry David (the real-life comedian and co-creator of 90s smash hit comedy Seinfeld, playing a fictional version of himself). Larry is a black hole created by the entertainment industry’s narcissism and selfishness. He’s there to not only give voice to the worst things we think about one another, but to act on them and see them through to their disastrous consequences. If you grew up with children’s morality comics in which one child was good and read the Bible, and the other was a vicious little delinquent who slept late, forgot his homework, and stole a cigarette, Larry is that second child as a grandad. But he has a flair for expressing the unspeakable in a way that’ll really stick with you. 


Crashing on Showmax

Comedian Pete Holmes plays Pete Holmes in this semi-autobiographical comedy series about a 30-something youth pastor whose life falls apart after he uncovers his wife Jessica’s (Lauren Lapkus) infidelity just as he’s stretching his wings as a stand-up comedian. That’s the opening act for a three-season deep dive into what it’s like to mine your own life for tragedy, then throw it out there for strangers to laugh at. Pete also explores the camaraderie and bitter jealousies between stand-ups (who play themselves, from Artie Lange and TJ Miller to Sarah Silverman). It’s a clown-eat-clown world and you have to be able to fight back when someone calls you “the Muppet that’s gonna gentrify Sesame Street.”  

The Comeback 

HBO's The Comeback S1-2 are on Showmax

Comedy-drama series The Comeback centres on outrageously narcissistic actress Valerie Cherish (Lisa Kudrow), an older actress in Hollywood who’s gone from being America’s sweetheart, to Aunt Sassy in the upcoming sitcom Room and Bored. What she lacks in self-awareness and perspective, Valerie makes up for in delusion. And while she prepares to make the greatest show ever to grace the small screen, her every career misstep is being captured for posterity for her new reality series, also titled The Comeback. Valerie always gives her all at work, and by all we mean 110% chaos and desperation, while dressed as a giant cupcake. 

Stream more comedy on Showmax now.

Malpractice S1, now streaming
Killing It, now streaming