DVD: Funny Farm, The (1983)

August 19, 2017 | By

Film: Weak

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Good

Label:  Code Red

Region: 1 (NTSC)

Released:  May 23, 2017

Genre:  Comedy / CanCon

Synopsis: A novice comedian heads to the mecca of stand-up in L.A., working his way up among a gang of wild, wacky, and wayward goofballs.

Special Features:  Interview with co-star Tracey Bregman (7:37) / Theatrical Trailer.




Not to be confused in any way with the 1988 Chevy Chase film, this CanCon production predates the Tom Hanks drama Punchline (also 1988) in examining the world of stand-up comedy, albeit through the lenses of goofy glasses. The cast of comedians is perhaps a key reason the film managed to sneak its way to DVD via Code Red, treating it with affection when most tax shelter ventures languish in the bottom drawer of dentists and commercial builders.

Tax shelter films didn’t have to be good nor get any theatrical play – they just needed to exist to qualify as 100% write-offs for investors – but once in a while the talent gelled and enough care went into a production to yield a classic. Funny Farm doesn’t come near that benchmark, but its cast of working comics and some unusual casting guarantee its status as a curio.

Wannabe comedian Mark Champlin (Miles Chapin) drives from Cincinnati to Los Angeles where he hopes to make it big on the intimate stage shared by working comedians. When his destination ends up being the burn-out shell – Maybe he should’ve called first to check its solvency? – he finds out The Funny Farm is the next best thing. Initially a wallflower, Champlin auditions for a spot, and within a short time becomes a regular, joining the wall of regular stars, woos barmaid Amy (Tracey Bregman), and impresses exploitive TV impresario Paul (Mark Breslin) who offers him a shot at stardom with a TV pilot.

Champlin doesn’t get big-headed, but his eyes on TV soon separate him from the gang of comics he once considered peers, but when the pilot ends in disaster, he decides to pack it all in and head home, but a stopover in a divey gas station / comedy club sends him back to The Funny Farm and into the arms of perky Amy.

Stars Chapin, Bregman, Eileen Brennan (The Sting, Private Benjamin), and Jack Carter are the top-heavy U.S. talent, but alongside are a substantive roster of Canadian comics, writers, actors, and future stars, including Howie Mandel, who also appeared in Gas (1981), the first of a 2-film production deal with Filmplan International, and in 1984 would voice Gizmo in the box office hit Gremlins (1984).

Code Red’s interview with Bregman has her waxing with great affection for the film – it’s clearly a movie in which everyone had a blast making, with filming in the U.S. for exteriors and Montreal for the comedy club location – and the actress recalls getting a part in the film after returning to the States just as Happy Birthday to Me (1981) had wrapped. The then 18 year old also co-wrote the meh End Credits song, and would also contribute material to the closing song of the WIP classic The Concrete Jungle (1982) before soap stardom in The Yong and the Restless in 1984.

Funny Farm apparently took 2 years to hit screens, after which it likely made its way to TV and home video, with Mandel and Bregman’s appearances getting more attention, but it is amusing to see Canadian actors working with slim material. The goofball comedians include Peter Aykroyd (brother of Dan, and another Gas alunus) being wacky and outrageous, Jack Blum (Meatballs’ Spaz) as the club’s emcee, Maurice LaMarche (a master and prolific voice artist) doing assorted imitations, and prolific character actor Derek McGrath as the club’s owner.

Ron Clark’s script & direction are adequate, but any insight into the world of stand-up comedians is blanketed with tiresome wacky hijinks, most concocted to give the massive supporting cast things to do while Champlin works his way to ephemeral TV stardom.

Besides coffee shop gatherings, mucking about in a clothing store, and the bizarre trolling through streets that yield a car accident and stalking the club’s ‘mysterious’ comedian Myles (Gene Clark), there’s little drama. Clark keeps things goofy, and running time padding includes Myles’ bizarre funeral and feigning an earthquake to get club manager Gail (Brennan) out into the street wearing nothing but  a bed sheet. Gail’s humiliation gives the character an unusually intimate, dramatic moment which Brennan plays dead straight (and quite beautifully, really).

A third digression in which the buddy-buddy comics visit a Las Vegas icon named Philly Beekman (veteran Jack Carter) starts to steer the film into awkward terrain as the scene rapidly shifts from a meeting between icon and wannabes to a misogynist, racist pig who sends them running out the door. Clark’s reasoning may have been to show ‘the dark side’ than may lie beneath a beloved icon, but Carter plays it like a bulldog, fast-talking and berating the group viciously.

Completely underwritten and underplayed is Champlin’s TV break, which is over and done with in one scene. Instead of seeing him fail during the taping, he’s told he’s fired and leaves the building, denying us any meaty drama. Champlin pushes away Amy’s concern, and the soundtrack swells with the worst of an already awful batch of songs which make up the film’s score.

Funny Farm certainly worked as a career stepping stone, giving the cast & crew big screen credits, but it’s just a curio in the slim sub-genre of comedies and dramadies set in the world of stand-up comedians.

Ron Clark’s prior directorial effort is the softcore, Montreal-shot Sex and the Office Girl (1972), and Filmplan International’s small filmography encompasses a few notables: amid Hog Wild (1980), Dirty Tricks (1981), Gas (1981), The Funny Farm (1983), and Covergirl (1984) are David Cronenberg’s Scanners (1981) and Videodrome (1983) – two works you’d like to think exist because of the lesser quintet.

Special thanks to John Riven and Mark Breslin for respectively adding some info and anecdotes.



© 2017 Mark R. Hasan



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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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