Vince Vaughn’s Wild West Comedy Show

Written by on February 20th, 2008

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Don’t judge Vince Vaughn’s Wild West Comedy Show by its title—the documentary isn’t 100 minutes of Fred Claus running his mouth. Instead of putting himself center stage for the eponymous event, the loud, tall acquired taste picked four genial comedians from Los Angeles’ Comedy Store and organized a 30-day, 30-city tour.

The 2005 shows featured stand-up comedy, obviously, but also a little bit of music (Dwight Yoakam makes an appearance) and sketches with guest actors (Peter Billingsley, aka A Christmas Story’s Ralphie, re-creates scenes from a steroid-themed 1990 after-school special he and Vaughn taped).

The performers ­themselves—Bret Ernst, John Caparulo, Ahmed Ahmed, and Sebastian ­Maniscalco—are given as much time offstage as on, lending the doc a compelling Comedian feel as they talk about venues, bios, and bits or just give one another the kind of shit to be expected when a bunch of dudes hole up together for a long while.

Vaughn says his aim in putting together the project was “to bring a top-quality comedy show to people’s backyards,” reasoning that the best bills tend to be restricted to Los Angeles or New York. The tour was a hit with the live audiences it reached, and the multilayered film that stems from it is a gem that clearly has the ability to take Vaughn’s goal further.

These are good-natured, likable guys as well as solid comedians who can even spin tired did-ya-ever-notice gags about the differences between the sexes into gold. (It’s shocking to hear, late in the movie, that Maniscalco had actually still been waiting tables when he was plucked for the show.)

Seeing how the comics mold the not-so-funny stuff they’ve gone through—poverty, racism, and death—into their act is fascinating, as is the fact that the timing of the road schedule brought them face-to-face with another tragedy, Katrina.

As nice as these men seem, there’s a notable perspective shift from the time they crankily pile into a minivan, not thrilled that they’ve unexpectedly been tasked with handing out free tickets to a campground of hurricane victims, to the time they leave, after they help put genuine smiles on the faces of people who have nothing.

There’s nothing condescending about these scenes; along with the comics’ constant riffage and the doc’s terrific, vintage-country soundtrack (Buck Owens, Johnny Cash), the film’s full of joyful moments that pretty much guarantee you’ll feel better walking out than you did going in. As Caparulo notes, “It’s really cool to have a job that’s cathartic.”

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