I recently got the chance to sit down and watch the 2010 documentary, The Unbookables. The film follows eight comedians- including James Inman, Andy Andrist, and Sean Rouse- as they tour through and wreak havoc upon the comedy clubs of America’s heartland. While there’s plenty of films that follow essentially the same storyline (life on the road) The Unbookables has a certain realness about it that I found refreshing for this genre.
The Unbookables is a movie about comics who won’t be starring on their own versions of Whitney or The Soup. These guys tour playing half-empty rooms because they’d be broke if they didn’t. This isn’t to say that this group is any less funny than cable-comedians, but their is a sense that the style of comedy on this tour is simply not meant for mainstream audiences (which explains the multiple bombed performances in the documentary much better than any lack of comedic talent). But the comedians on this tour are completely fine with their lack of mainstream appeal-so long as they don’t sell out or compromise their acts.
If there’s any recurring theme in The Unbookables, it’s the struggle each of these comedians has with walking the line between making no compromises and having an act that people will actually pay to listen to. After a couple particularly raunchy acts at a club in Kansas, the entire tour, with the exception of Inman, is asked not to perform the next day by the club owner. Inman is faced with the choice of being potentially excommunicated by the group, or performing at the club. Later in the film, Andrist recounts an opportunity presented to him by HBO to have his own special, on the condition that he clean his act up for the airwaves. He states how he listened to HBO and did the jokes they wanted him to do, but his special still never aired, to which comedian Kristine Levine notes, “That’s why you always gotta do what you wanna do.”
The comedians in The Unbookables do just that, and consequences are an afterthought. The film contains plenty of laughs, even more cringes, belligerent drunks, and a surprising amount of heart.