Picks and Pans Review: Wisecracks

updated 07/20/1992 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/20/1992 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Documentary

Far more entertaining than it is enlightening, this documentary is a study of women stand-up comedians by Canadian director Gail (Loved, Honoured and Bruised) Singer. She, like many of the women she is interested in, takes the whole business too seriously, at limes oppressively so.

There is also a fair amount of man bashing, and not a little straw-man bashing, especially by Kim Wayans and Sandra Shamas, who both imply that male comedians have an easy job because audiences are often sexist. "Men have to prove they're not funny" to attract disapproval, Wayans says. Emily Levine describes her fantasies this way: "After sex, the man dies."

The excerpts Singer uses include Paula Poundstone, who has as big a chin as Jay Leno's and a bigger sense of humor, noting that she picked out boots made from both lizard and calfskin—'so I could destroy as many animals as possible. Then I asked them, 'Do you have anything in kitten?' " Ellen DeGeneres recalls that her parents ran a petting zoo "and a heavy-petting zoo for the people who really like animals."

Geri Jewell, who has cerebral palsy jokes easily about her affliction and tells a funny story about attending the TV show of her idol. Carol Burnett. After getting a front-row seat by pretending she was deaf, Jewell raised her hand to ask a question during Burnett's Q&A session with her audience.

Comic and talk show host Jenny Jones does a witty, if predictable, bit about thrift-oriented dating: "I went out to dinner with this man.... At least he was a gentleman: He carried my tray."

Interspersed with the performance snippets are generally dreary offstage interviews, in which Poundstone, Whoopi Goldberg and Phyllis Differ are noteworthy for not lapsing into gripe sessions about how hard women comedians have it. (A series of old movie clips shortchanges the work of pioneer Fanny Brice; Singer doesn't even identify her when she appears onscreen, and Brice is hardly a familiar face these days.)

Notably overlooked are successful, reliably funny Rita Rudner. Judy Tenuta and Lily Tomlin. Singer also doesn't deign-or maybe it's dare—to interview any men. However politically incorrect it might have been, talking to, say, Robin Williams, Steve Martin, Johnny Carson and Bob Hope would probably have provided some perspective, as well as a few more laughs.

As it is, this is like a cable TV women's comedy anthology. It will give you a good time, but it won't teach you much. (Not rated)

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