Crowdfunded film Road Hard is about life on the road for a standup comic. Having brought the funny across the country and eaten a few garage sandwiches herself, who better to review it than Zoe Lyons?
The road is long, with many a winding turn. If you’re a jobbing comic, the road is like an Escher illusion: it never ends but rather doubles back on itself in a continuous loop. The idea is to build up enough speed on this jester’s hamster wheel to get the required momentum to enable you to spin off in another direction toward bigger and better things. That’s the dream for most standups and, for a while, Bruce Madsen (Adam Carolla) was living that dream, co-hosting a successful television show in the 1980s and ’90s.
But the dream went sour when Hollywood raised its fickle middle finger in Bruce’s direction and the TV work drifted away. While Bruce’s co-host’s career headed skywards towards superstardom, Bruce now finds himself back on the road and playing every ‘shit box’ comedy club in the country.
Reduced to living in the converted garage of his own house because his ex-wife refuses to sell their property, his daughter wants to get into a good university and so he must keep going to support her. His world is now comprised of endless miserable budget travel, lonely hotel rooms and trying to suppress the jealousy he feels towards those peers who are enjoying more success than him.
“I am afraid the last 10 minutes reminded me somewhat of the low-quality sandwiches I am forced to consume when on the road, lacking in any surprise and with way too much cheese.”
Of course, watching this as a jobbing comic myself and having experienced many a lonely, lacklustre breakfast on the road, I can relate completely to lots of the scenes. The drudgery, the dread and the self-loathing all ring true, as does the crippling horror of a car-crash corporate gig and the realisation you are being usurped by a YouTube-channel generation of acts.
Let’s face it, being a comic is a pretty niche job and while I enjoyed the film for these slightly uncomfortable truths about our profession, I do have to wonder how much anyone who is not ‘in the biz’ would get from it.
It is never easy to depict standup comedy in films or TV shows. It always looks jarring and somehow forced. I am afraid Road Hard doesn’t do much to improve on this. The comedy club scenes have a slight ‘nails on blackboard’ feel.
The plot lolls along, lacking any real direction at times and, while there are some lovely lines, sadly there are too few laugh-out-loud moments. Bruce wants to get off the road and needs his agent, Babydoll, to get him ‘that gig’ that will change everything. Babydoll (Larry Miller) is a living breathing cliche of an LA agent, all teeth, tits (on the surgically-enhanced, bikini-clad women who rather bizarrely find him appealing) and toupees.
Along the way the film suddenly becomes something of a rom-com when Bruce meets Sarah (Diane Farr) after a show. This developing relationship makes him question where he really wants to be in life and what he wants to be doing, forcing him to acknowledge that he simply didn’t work hard enough and that he doesn’t have the blind, relentless drive that can jettison someone into the prime time.
This is also partially true of the film, which could have tried harder. I am afraid the last 10 minutes reminded me somewhat of the low-quality sandwiches I am forced to consume when on the road, lacking in any surprise and with way too much cheese.
It is worth mentioning that Road Hard was crowdfunded and made on a comparatively tiny budget. Hats off to the production team who managed to make the film look so good on a relative shoestring.
Comedian, dog owner, skier, eater, drinker, procrastinator, bad spellor.