Parents' Guide to

It Started as a Joke

By Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 15+

Touching, funny docu about comedy festival and cancer.

Movie NR 2020 76 minutes
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This documentary breezes by quickly, but it manages to capture its subject soulfully while touching on serious subjects and demonstrating that laughter really is the best medicine sometimes. It Started as a Joke features a few revealing sit-down interviews with some of the featured comics, who seem to feel comfortable talking about Mirman and the festival without being "on." The history of the festival itself -- conceived as a spoof of more respectable comedy festivals -- is a bit haphazard. But it includes some of the event's more memorable moments, including off-the-wall ideas that were implemented without question, such as creative category names and a concept that involved getting drunk on stage.

When It Started as a Joke focuses on Mirman, he's remarkably, casually candid. The movie acknowledges that his particular sense of humor is very strange and probably appeals more to other comedians than it does to general audiences, but that also explains the success of the show. In one sequence, we see Mirman workshopping an idea: truthful greeting cards for people with cancer. It's clear that he's trying for laughs, but he's also working out his personal pain by saying it out loud. While it certainly could have dug deeper, the movie nevertheless has the power to make viewers smile through their tears.

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