Funny Pains is a documentary that follows Wendi Starling’s comedy career, and it shows an incredibly insightful perspective on what New York’s top comics go through on the daily.
I recently saw Funny Pains by director Jorgy Cruz, and I was so impressed by how the movie shows such an interesting side of the journey, grind, and hustle of some of New York’s top laugh-creators.
The documentary closely follows comedian Wendi Starling as she goes through a routine that most people would not survive for even a week. Quite simply, the girl doesn’t sleep. She works, she writes, she works some more, and she shows up at some of the most well-renowned clubs in New York and makes people laugh.
(It was hard to even watch how much she works herself into the ground.)
Funny Pains also highlights the people closest to her — her comedy inner circle, which is extremely interesting for a few reasons. Jorgy Cruz’s directing style throughout this project was very hands-off. You got the feeling that he didn’t control the outcome, but rather, went with the flow. He let the film play out the way it did, and, most importantly, he got the cast talking.
You learn so much about the mind of a comic in this film — things you never would have thought of are revealed. If you think about it, being thrust onto a stage (who knows who you’re going to get in the audience) and your job is to break the ice, relate to the crowd, and then get them to laugh — all on the spot — it’s a tall order!
In this film, you see behind the curtain — you see what comedians are thinking while on stage. You get an understanding of comedy that brings the viewer closer than ever before to the inside of the game.
The movie’s cast includes the likes of Krystyna Hutchinson, Nikki Glaser, Jim Norton, Bonnie McFarlane, Yamaneika Saunders, Rich Vos, and Andrew Schulz, among others. All have insight to share, and all have personal journies and stories that we get to know a little bit throughout Funny Pains.
Another thing that I found intriguing was that Cruz did not ignore the dark side of comedy. We get to know a lot about Wendi’s personal life and struggles throughout the film. She was gracious enough to really let viewers see many different sides of her: some happy, some not.
And at the end, the film rounds out in incredible fashion, as viewers feel just a little bit more understanding of the lives of the people who bring so much joy to us. I recently asked Jorgy Cruz’s representation if Cruz would be willing to comment about what the experience was like creating this documentary.
He generously replied with the following:
“I was not looking to shoot a documentary; I’ve worked in fiction and TV commercials for years and wrote scripts for features. The project came out of nowhere and so did Wendi, but as soon as I met her I knew that I was in the presence of a unique and complex human that carried a lot of pain and still made the daily decision to got on stage every night in the toughest city to make strangers laugh.
I quickly learned that comedy usually comes from pain, from the darkness of life. Comedy comes in to pour light into those dark spots. Most of the time, comedy truly disarms and breaks down subjects that are difficult or taboo into a healthy conversation; it takes the power away from traumatic events and brings it to a level in which we can all laugh. That’s magic to me.
I grew so much as a filmmaker. There were so many moments in which I just stayed quiet, holding a camera and looking directly in her eyes — that was enough. On other days I would ask away. As a giant fan of comedy, I had to learn how to find a balance in those moments. By the 5th day of shooting, I realized that this was not only a comedy documentary but a human experience story. I found so many layers in Wendi’s story that it took me to a place of questioning, how can this woman love comedy so much?
She’s broke, tired, with 3-4 roommates, and alone in the big bad city, yet she’s out here trying to make people laugh? 3 shows a night? What is she gaining from this? I learned that stand-up comedy is this strange and one-of-a-kind type of experience in which the comic and the audience connect with each other — IF the comedian gets them to laugh. A comedian gains the trust of a room full of strangers in a few minutes.
After shooting for a few years, we decided to reach out to some of my favorite comedians that ended up bringing so much into the doc with their comedy wisdom. They all went through the fire to make it in this business and they all identify with Wendi’s journey. It was an honor to have them in the doc; I still can’t believe we got so lucky.”