GOOD COMEDY is the result of collaborative effort, suggests Get Bruce!, a documentary about ghostwriter/gagwriter Bruce Vilanch, who's helped dozens of witty and not-so-witty celebs, including Whoopi Goldberg, Robin Williams, Bette Midler, and Donny Osmond. Such collaboration is easier, it seems, with a friendly fat jokester who resembles the Cookie Monster. What star could feel threatened by Vilanch's ample physique, unruly blonde-red hair, big eyeglasses, fuzzy beard, and T-shirt slogans like "Masturbation Makes You Blind"?
directed by Andrew J. Kuehn
runs December 3-7 at Egyptian
Get Bruce! charts Vilanch's career from its humble '70s beginnings at the Brady Bunch Variety Hour to his becoming one of the most sought-after—and expensive—writers in Hollywood. We meet the stars who credit him with helping them in their hour of need: presenting an award at the Oscars; paying birthday tribute to Elizabeth Taylor; making the Clintons laugh in spite of themselves.
Most of the interviews concern the Oscars, as Vilanch has co-written the last nine Academy Award telecasts. Of course it's questionable how funny these shows have actually been, but here the jokes are edited so that we get the best whammies. Plus, behind-the-scenes clips show poised beauties like Sigourney Weaver and Raquel Welch being coached by this goofy, lumbering man on how they should stand, where they should put their hands, and how their voices should rise and fall as they deliver their lines. (Apparently, many movie stars are basket cases on live television.)
WHAT WORKS for one comic doesn't necessarily work for another; accordingly, Vilanch is kind of like a personal stylist or trainer, cooperating with each client to tailor his or her characteristic material. Billy Crystal is strictly old-school, while Whoopi Goldberg pushes the racial envelope. Guess who was behind Ted Danson's blackface routine at the Friars' Club roast? Or Goldberg's Elizabethan makeover for the last Oscars?
Previously known for cutting movie trailers, director Andrew J. Kuehn doesn't delve deeply into Vilanch's personal life and briskly edits the celebrity conversations from one joke to the next. This rim-shot rhythm does become repetitive, so Kuehn was wise to trim his debut film to 75 minutes. But without the dramatic weight of a life story—Vilanch's homosexuality is hardly mentioned, and his teary breakdown at an AIDS charity event is sweetened with still more laughs—the movie, much like a trailer, leaves us feeling rather empty. Still, for a documentary about the nuts-and-bolts business of comedy, Get Bruce! delivers more than a few memorable jokes.