MCN Review: Showtime's 'I’m Dying Up Here' Paints Often-Dark Picture of Stand-up Scene

Showtime will take a behind-the-scenes look at the 1970s standup comedy scene with its new drama, I’m Dying Up Here.

The series, executive-produced by Jim Carrey, features an ensemble cast of aspiring standups performing at a Los Angeles club run by nurturing but tough-as-nails veteran Goldie (Melissa Leo). The series opens with one of the club’s alums, Clay (Sebastian Stan), actually making it out of the club and onto the stage at The Tonight Show, where he’s a big hit — much to the joy and envy of his fellow would-be stars.

A series of events following Clay’s performance, however, portrays the often-fleeting nature of standup success, and soon the comics face their own fears and insecurities as they seek to break through in the tough and unforgiving comedy world.

The pilot episode sets up the dynamics that will be in play throughout the series as the comedians — Goldie’s Club veterans Cassie (Ari Graynor), Bill (Andrew Santino), Ralph (Erik Griffin) and Edgar (Al Madrigal), as well as fresh-off-the-street newcomers Eddie (Michael Angarano) and Ron (Clark Duke) — test the boundaries of their onstage skills, and their relationships with each other and with the outsiders who will ultimately influence their careers.

While the premise is comedy — and the standup routines are generally funny and at times very risqué — I’m Dying Up Here paints an often-dark picture of the scene and the lengths comics will go to break through. It doesn’t play favorites with any characters, balancing the euphoric highs of excelling under the TV’s bright lights, to the devastating lows of losing a coveted spot on the club’s main stage, to the pride-humbling prospect of paying to sleep in a closet for a shot at performing in the club. Viewers shouldn’t expect a laugh a minute, but they also shouldn’t expect to be bored.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.