SXSW Conference attendees at the world premiere of I’m Dying Up Here were treated to what Executive Producer Michael Aguilar called, “A very dramatic show about being funny.” The new Showtime series was championed by Jim Carrey, also an executive producer. According to Aguilar, Carrey wanted people to see the world of comedy clubs which he started working in when he was 18.
The show is set in the 1970s, a little earlier than Carrey’s experience, and draws on the non-fiction book of the same name by William Knoedelseder.
The show’s fictional group of comedians, working in a comedy club run by Goldie, played by Melissa Leo, try to get laughs in LA’s stand-up comedy world where the careers of Jay Leno, Richard Pryor, and David Letterman took off. Their common goal: Get a gig on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. If Carson liked your stand-up and invited you over to the couch after your routine, you had it made.
When one of their own succeeds on Carson, reactions vary and their lives get way more complicated.
The SXSW premier was attended by Executive Producer Aguilar and seven members of the show’s ensemble cast.
Academy Awards winner Melissa Leo (Wayward Pines, The Fighter) plays Goldie. “Just a handful of weeks before the start of production,” she said, “I had no idea that there was only one single women who this character could be based on, but I’m not playing her, I’m playing Goldie.”
Viewers of the show will need to use their imaginations if they want to identify their favorite comedians in these characters. They are all fictional, wink, wink.
Al Madrigal (About a Boy), who plays Edgar, said that every character fit into a category. “I watched a lot of Freddie Prinze for this,” he said. “He really did a lot of jokes like ‘A Puerto Rican guy walks into a store…’. Stuff not allowed today.”
Erik Griffin (Workaholics) claims to be “racially ambiguous”. “I needed to black it up a bit for this role,” he said. Getting the role was a surprise for him. “When the security manager at one of my shows walked up and said, ‘Jim Carrey is here’, I thought he was kidding me, but then the next day I got a call.”
Ari Graynor (Bad Teacher – TV series) plays Cassie who has the most screen time in the first episode. “I had never done stand-up and it feels just as scary shooting it,” she said. “I never even went to see stand up before this. The 70s vibe was different, so to get ready I watched a lot of 70s shows.”
Some of the stand-up Graynor does during the show involves tragedies that have happened to her character. “I practiced some of the stand up from the show on audiences who didn’t know I was acting,” she confessed. “People sympathized with me after the show and I felt horribly guilty.” Indicating her co-stars, “But then I’ve had to get a thick skin with you guys.”
Andrew Santino (Mixology) plays Bill. He described his character as a “crude sardonic jerk.” He added, “It was a pleasure to play.” He continued, “I do stand-up so the hardest thing for me was staying in my character and not letting my real stand up bleed into the character. My character gets nicer as the show progresses.”
Producer Aguilar had praise for the people who did costumes and production design. “We wanted to get a 70s look, but not hit everybody over the head with it. It should feel very present culturally. We don’t want to be a show where viewers can’t get off ‘Oh, this is the 70’s.”
Melisa Leo also had something to say about costumes. “Like my dress? When I wore it to the Emmys I didn’t get on camera so I thought I’d wear it today.”
Photos by author