I'm Dying Up Here

TV review by
Joyce Slaton, Common Sense Media
I'm Dying Up Here TV Poster Image
Affecting, sharp series has drugs, sex, dirty jokes.

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Positive Messages

Comics jokes' often circle around complex topics: abortion, oral sex, masturbation, the Vietnam war, race, and rape. This may provide food for thought/conversation with older teens but may be too mature for younger kids.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Comics jockey for power in a zero-sum game, Bill sums it up when he says, "Every other comic's success ... is one more we didn't get." Characters are complex in this ensemble comedy; many have fatal flaws: They are unfaithful to their loved ones, unkind to their friends, scathing onstage; they may also be loyal to fellow comics and fiercely hardworking. Cass emerges as the most sympathetic character, a thoughtful woman trying to make a dent in a male-dominated field.


Occasional but shocking violence: A character suddenly hit by a bus and thrown into the street; while his body lies in the street, a women steals his wallet. 


Nudity and graphic content: Scenes take place in a strip bar with a woman fully nude and dancing; a man performs oral sex on a woman (offscreen); priests pay a man to masturbate in front of them (no genitals are seen, but the man unzips his pants and reaches in before the camera cuts away); a man pays a woman to masturbate him; a man cheats on his wife and gets an STD; women and men are nude from the rear; comics joke about sex, oral sex, masturbation; a woman tells a story about attacking her cheating ex while he was getting oral sex. Hecklers tell a woman to show her "tits" and graphically demand oral sex; she plays it off with a joke. A couple kisses in their underwear while discussing why he doesn't want to have sex. 


Cursing and off-color language: "f--k," "s--t," "s--thead," "a--hole," "motherf--king," "c--ks--ker," "blow job," "prick," "nuts," "douche bag."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Many scenes take place in comedy clubs with drinks on every table; comics smoke joints and cigarettes and snort cocaine.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that I'm Dying Up Here is a mature and often quite dark series about the rise of the stand-up comedy scene in the 1970s. Many of the jokes are very mature, targeting subjects such as masturbation, various types of sex, rape, abortions, race, and politics; they may provide conversation starters for parents who view with teens, but they're not appropriate for younger viewers. Comics are seen smoking joints and cigarettes, snorting cocaine, and drinking; in clubs, every table has a few drinks on it, and comics drink and get drunk, sloppy, and mean. Characters have sex, including oral sex; no private parts are seen, but there's some frank talk. In a vignette set in a strip bar, a woman is seen fully nude; men and women are nude from the rear in another scene. Religious leaders pay a man to masturbate in front of them; the camera cuts away after he unzips his pants and reaches in. A woman is heckled onstage and asked to show her "tits" and suck an audience member's "dick." Cursing and off-color language includes "f--k," "f--king," "s--t," "a--hole," "c--ks--ker," "blow job," "prick," "nuts," and "douche bag." Violence is rare but shocking when it occurs: A character is suddenly hit by a bus and thrown into the street; while his body lies in the street, a women steals his wallet. 

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What's the story?

Set in the burgeoning stand-up comedy world in 1970s Los Angeles, I'M DYING UP HERE centers on a group of comedians in various stages of making it: After years of working Goldie's (Melissa Leo) comedy club, Clay Appuzzo (Sebastian Stan) has made it all the way to the comics' Olympus, going on The Tonight Show and getting invited to sit on the guest couch to talk to Johnny Carson (Dylan Baker). It's enough to make Goldie's other protégés -- cynical Bill (Andrew Santino), fresh-faced Ron (Clark Duke), silly Ralphie (Erik Griffin), wisecracking Texas transplant Cass (Ari Graynor), and a dozen others -- sick with jealousy and even more determined to work their way up to the club's main stage and into the public eye. 

Is it any good?

Gossipy, occasionally downbeat, and very, very funny, this irresistible series set in stand-up's golden age is even more fun than watching a crackling 10-minute set. Comics are often flawed and deeply unhappy people; we know this from watching named-after-their-stars series such as Louie, Maron, and even Seinfeld, and those are examples of successful comedians. These comics, who live in five-to-a-room apartments, go without meals, and humbly beg for unpaid stage appearances, are on a much lower tier of the entertainment world, each trying to move up while shoving everyone else they know off the merry-go-round.

One comic captures the zeitgeist in a bitter speech in I'm Dying Up Here's first episode: "Every other comic's success ... is one more we didn't get." This is not a team pulling together; it's about bitter rivals all jockeying for the same faraway brass ring. But what fun to watch them struggle in the meantime, playing crappy clubs, handling hecklers, scratching for a living, and cracking jokes the whole time. These comics may be mostly going nowhere fast -- except for the few destined to catch the breaks -- but there are enough swift jokes to make the struggle a lot of fun to watch.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about careers. How does I'm Dying Up Here depict the life of a comedian? Is it similar to any other kind of life?

  • Does this show make stand-up comedy look fun, glamorous, or enjoyable? Is it supposed to? What about life offstage? Does it look appealing in this show?

  • Dramas based in historical periods often have characters based on real people, whether they're identified or not. Is anyone in I'm Dying Up Here based on a real person? How can you tell? Does knowing more about the place and time in which this show is set make you appreciate the show more? 

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