Comedy is an important part of culture. Humor allows expression of controversial and taboo ideas in ways that some audiences can accept. Jokes bring hidden issues to public attention in ways other genres just can’t.

Documentaries take comedy seriously. Well, documentaries take most everything seriously, but that doesn’t mean the form never shows its sense of humor.

Check out these five documentaries about comedy.

Comedian

Comedian goes backstage to explore the nerve-wracking world of stand-up comedy. Christian Charles’s film follows twin narrative arcs of the novice comedian and the established comedian. The novice comedian, Orny Adams, struggles with landing gigs and telling a rewritten joke on a late-night talk show. The established comedian, none other than Jerry Seinfeld, places himself back on the club circuit to develop his new material. While the two comedians offer career contrasts, they both face similar struggles.

The Aristocrats

With the aristocrats joke, the humor is not in the punchline but in the telling. And the more offensive the telling of the joke, the better. Directed by Paul Provenza, The Aristocrats features 100 comedians from Billy Connolly to Whoopi Goldberg telling their version of this classic vaudeville joke. Check out Full House star Bob Saget’s rendition for a particularly vulgar take. This film is not for the thin-skinned.

Old Jews Telling Jokes

The title captures the topic, simplicity, and delight of this web series directed by Sam Hoffman. A senior Jewish person is idenitified by name, sometimes occupation, sometimes location, and birth year as they tell their joke. Some jokes are short and sweet, such as this one about the urologist, while others require a longer telling, such as this one about the Lone Ranger’s fate. They also cover food, religion, Jewish mothers,
and the more risqué.

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work

Joan Rivers (1933-2014) was a giant in female stand-up comedy, a pioneer who inspired generations of female comics. In 2017, she landed at number six on Rolling Stone’s best stand-up comics list. Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg’s Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work follows the workaholic comedian for a year, during which she packs her calendar with gigs from acting in a play to appearing on a reality show, not to mention the occasional stand-up appearance.

The Muslims are Coming!

The Muslims are Coming! is a concert documentary and road trip that features several Muslim comedians traveling around the United States to generate conversation about Muslims, to challenge Muslim stereotypes, and to entertain audiences. Directed by and starring Negin Farsad and Dean Obeidallah, the film follows these comedians as they offer free shows in places such as Birmingham, Tupelo, and Murfreesboro. Commentary from established comedians, imams, and other experts rounds out this film.

Should another title be on this list? Leave your suggestions in the comments below.

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