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5 Documentaries To Watch If You Want To Learn More About Comedy!

Written by Anya Bergstrom. Published: April 24 2024


The comedy world is both elusive and intimidating, but within it, there is a place for everybody. From the mediums of stand-up comedy to sketch comedy, even to late night television and improvisation, comedy is everywhere at all times and there is always much to be explored. If you’re a fan of watching comedies or perhaps slightly obsessed with learning about how all of these funny people made it to the stage under a spotlight, look no further than this list of documentaries to watch if you want to learn more about comedy!


1. "The History of Comedy"

This CNN Original docuseries is perhaps the most comprehensive look into the world and history of comedy. Focusing on American comedy and comedians, this series highlights the cultural significance of comedy across different time periods. It takes a deep dive into individual comedians that shaped and reflected on American culture at different times. Importantly, it answers the question of why we enjoy comedies so much. Through using archival footage and contemporary interviews of comedians and scholars, it explores why Americans want to laugh, and how the American social and political landscape has been shaped by our collective need for laughter. Stream on Max.




2. "The Story of Late Night"

There is no question that late-night television is a staple in American comedy. Another CNN original docuseries, “The Story of Late Night” begins its first episode with the very first iteration of what we now know as late-night TV. Sprouting from the seeds of Vaudeville theater, Late-night can be traced from Steve Allen’s “Tonight” all the way to the friendly face of Jimmy Fallon from “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon”. It is a deep investigation into how late-night has transformed from a niche entertainment for a small audience to a mass political tool that now tackles important political topics, including the presidential elections and the COVID-19 pandemic. Stream on Max.




3. Dying Laughing 

Interested in listening to all your favorite stand-up comedians talk about how they got their start in comedy? This is the documentary for you. Dying Laughing takes an intimate look into the comedian's lives and asks them what comedy means to them. With personal interviews from comedy greats like Jerry Seinfeld, Amy Schumer, Garry Shandling, and many more, the sheer number of comedians that make it into this documentary is what sets it apart from others, and whoever your favorite may be, you’re likely to find them featured. This documentary also makes an effort to not just portray comedy as the usual “white boys club” but rather elevate the voices of comics who are female or are people of color. A common take away from all of the talking head interviews featured is the long, grueling path that every successful comic had to endure to achieve their wildest dreams. Stream on Prime Video, Peacock, Pluto TV, Tubi, Sling TV, Crackle, PLEX, MGM+, Philo, and fuboTV.




4. Hysterical 

However much the comedy industry has changed and adapted to the times, it remains a male-dominated industry. This 2021 documentary gives the stage to all the female comedians, from the newcomers to the mega stars, as they reveal their personal stories of working their way through the brutal world of comedy clubs. You can spot star-studded features including Nikki Glaser, Iliza Shlesinger, Fortune Feimster, Margaret Cho, and many more hilarious women. With an intimate look at these female comedians’ lives both on and off-stage, “Hysterical” generously showcases the achievements of these hysterical and talented women. They discuss topics like facing sexism, homophobia, and general inequality while making their mark in comedy history. Stream on Hulu.




5. "George Carlin’s American Dream"

This documentary focuses on the life of a single comedian, but not just any comedian – one of the most influential comedians in recent comedy history. George Carlin’s lasting impact on American comedy cannot be underestimated, and this 2022 documentary perfectly captures the man’s importance with interviews from comedians that were influenced by his works, including Jerry Seinfeld and Jon Stewart. This 2-part series is a delicate demonstration of how a comedian and their environment are almost symbiotic, in the sense that a comedian’s material is influenced by the culture and vice-versa. George Carlin’s change in comedic style since the 1980s to his signature raw, abrasive observations about political hypocrisy in America is what sets him apart from all the others and makes this series about his life a must-watch for any aspiring comedian. Stream on Max.