One of the finest standup hotbeds of the modern era is captured in a documentary called "When Stand-Up Stood Out" We attended the premiere in Boston --a review by Brian McKim

Fran Solomita was one of the many fine comics who got polished in the giant lapidary tumbler that was the standup comedy scene in Boston in the 80s. It was a time and place that gave us a mini- revolution of sorts in the standup biz and a breeding ground unheard of outside of NY and LA-- thriving clubs elbow to elbow in Boston's theater district affording dozens of comics the chance to hone a killer club set, alternative rooms offering perhaps the ideal creative atmosphere, a scene where the comics were getting the ink and luring hotshot TV producers out of their comfort zones.

It is this cauldron that is depicted in "When Stand-Up Stood Out." In a somewhat zig-zaggy chronological order, the 80-minute documentary touches on three main themes: the seminal club set up in the back of a Chinese restaurant called the Ding Ho, the appearance of Steven Wright on the Tonight Show and the mad partying that became a hallmark of the scene until the eventual crash and burn of the Boston scene in particular and the larger comedy business in general.

Through interviews, grainy video shot in dark clubs, quick-cut footage taken of the Boston landscape and various television clips, Solomita takes us from the early days, when upstate NY native Barry Crimmins provided Boston acts with the Ding Ho venue. Crimmins and company awakened Beantown entrepreneurs to the potential of standup and lit the fuse that would eventually result in the boom.

It's a blast to watch Wright, Lenny Clarke, Kenny Rogerson and others talk about the early days, back when "it was all about the comedy." All that ends, of course, when Tonight producer Peter Lasally accidentally ends up at a Boston showcase and plucks Steven Wright from obscurity. In the wake of Wright's launch, the connection is made-- a clear path from yukking it up at the Knotty Pine in Quincy can lead to sitting on Johnny's couch and eventually to... an Oscar? A sitcom? Who knows what?!

Fortunately for the filmmakers, 80s comics were often prone to spend the money left over from drink and drugs on gadgets like video cameras. We're treated to a slim, rugby shirt-clad Lenny Clarke whipping a crowd into a frenzy. We see a bowtied Kevin Meaney as he harasses motorist passing by on Comm Ave. outside Stitches. And we're privy to the questionable goings-on at a comedy frat/boarding house dubbed "The Barracks."

Other present-day interviews supplement the narrative and an especially humorous recollection by Colin Quinn goes a long way toward our understanding of Nick's Comedy Stop, which in turn affords us a real appreciation of Boston crowds and the city of Boston in general. Additional chats with Paula Poundstone, Bob Goldthwaite, Janeane Garofalo and Denis Leary are detailed and entertaining.

In our recent appraisal of "The Comedian," we said we were ecstatic to see standup comics once again depicted as rock stars. Seinfeld's chronicling of his struggle to rebuild a new set would, we predicted, go a long way toward the rehabilitation of the standup comic's image in the popular culture.

We gotta think that "WS-USO," when it secures a deal for distribution or starts appearing at various festivals and such, will do the same. The 80s eruption in Boston and the ensuing changes wrought locally and nationally in the business of live standup was analagous to the "discovery" of the grunge scene in Seattle. And just as the making and the selling of music is still feeling the effects of that phenomenon, so too is standup still feeling the effects of Boston. This docu gives us a view into one of the most influential markets during a crucial period in a fascinating business.

Personally, I began my relationship with the Boston market at the end of the era depicted in the film-- the very end, actually. I believe the year was 1984. I wangled an invite to Boston from Billy Downs, who was running the Comedy Connection at the time. I flew to Boston, took a cab to Warrenton St. and was immediately whisked backstage, into the little tiny ultra-terranean bunker they had back there. The mood was somewhat subdued this evening, however, because the news was rippling through the community that a room had closed down. That room? The Ding Ho. At the time, I didn't fully grasp the importance at the time, but over the next few years, I learned what it had meant to the comics who worked there. I hope nobody blames me!

The above pictures were taken at the Soho restaurant in Brighton, during the heavily-attended premiere party just before the screening at the Coolidge Corner Theater, which was a wildly successful, near-sellout. We'd like to once again thank Sandra Sullivan and the Boston Video and Film Festival. (Hit For more information on the movie, hit their website. HOME Back to the Top