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“The Comedians” is Essentially When Billy Met Josh…

He’s a nine-time Oscar host and a revered comedy legend. He’s an up-and-coming comedy star who was a voice in the biggest animated movie of all time. So what happens when these two are forced to work together?

Billy Crystal is a nine-time Oscar host and a revered comedy legend. Josh Gad is an up-and-coming comedy star who was a voice in the biggest animated movie of all time. So what happens when these two are forced to work together?

The Comedians is a comedy mockumentary about the behind-the-scenes making of  the fictional The Billy and Josh Show, where the two stars play fictionalized versions of themselves. The conflict between stars Billy Crystal (SNL fame) and Josh Gad (Olaf from Frozen) is central. After FX decides that Billy’s planned television show needs to be spruced up, they pair him with Frozen star Josh Gad. What ultimately results is two comedians whose comedy styles don’t mesh, as they pretend to be friendly while backstabbing each other to get what they want.

This is a series I came across one day as I was randomly scrolling through Hulu. The show only ran for one season, with a total of thirteen episodes, which is incredibly disappointing. The Comedians deserved far more than it got, because it is so well done. It consistently delivers big laughs, while also having a lot of heart to it.

Billy Josh
Billy Crystal (R) and Josh Gad (L)

I have a soft spot for television series that follow comedians playing themselves. Curb Your Enthusiasm, Maron, Legit, Louie before everything came out about Louis C.K. — these shows all feature comedians playing an exaggerated, a**hole version of themselves. While one may argue that The Comedians is simply following the trend of the aforementioned series, Billy Crystal and Josh Gad both play the part perfectly.

When we meet Billy Crystal in The Comedians, he’s been a comedy legend for decades. He’s had a massive career, but now he’s trying to get back out there in the public consciousness. While Billy ultimately feels insecure about his standing, this is masked when he is introduced to Josh Gad. Josh may be rising up the ranks in comedy, but Billy doesn’t understand Josh’s humor and has very little respect for him. Billy uses this to feel better about himself.

Over the course of the thirteen episodes, we see Billy and Josh trying to work together. They can’t stand each other, then they come to appreciate each other, and then they hate each other again. In their own most selfish, egotistical ways, they try to sabotage each other in order to boost themselves. Ultimately, there is nothing they won’t do to tear the other down in order to build themselves up, and to get what they ultimately want: the spotlight.

The Comedians is shot as a mockumentary following the making of The Billy and Josh Show, a sketch comedy series on FX. Billy Crystal — the real Billy Crystal — has locked down the key to doing a mockumentary series. He understands the most important thing about it: upholding the illusion that this is all real.

There are many mockumentary series out there that have fantastic writing, but the mockumentary element becomes more of a stylistic choice than an actual narrative decision. With The Comedians, the mockumentary angle is embedded into the story of the series. The writing and performances of every scene is done while being conscious of the camera at all times. There is a side glance to the camera that Crystal does in this series that I think rivals John Krasinski’s in The Office. Crystal’s expression and, most importantly, his timing, is absolute genius.

Had this series just been about a seasoned comedian and an up-and-comer, it wouldn’t have had nearly the same impact. This show works because it’s supposed to be Billy Crystal and Josh Gad. When comedians are playing themselves, they take the comedy to places that they may not have gone had they been playing an actual character. They are willing to paint themselves in a terrible light and exaggerate their worst qualities. Comedians are the first ones to make a joke about themselves, and that is what is so funny about these kinds of series: it is one big joke a comedian is making at their own expense.

Since Crystal and Gad themselves are the butt of the joke, they have no problems taking it to the extreme. They have no issues making themselves look horrible, petty, and self-obsessed. It may be a shtick, but if a shtick is well written and well performed, it works. Crystal and Gad continuously play up this angle over the thirteen episodes, and I found it to be absolutely hysterical.

The comedians tv series 2015

After firing Larry Charles (who actually created The Comedians) from The Billy and Josh Show, they are in search of a new director. Billy suggests bringing on Jamie Dobbs, a director he had worked with in the past. When the director shows up on set, Billy and Josh find out that Jamie has recently transitioned. Jamie is played by Steven Weber, who is not transgender himself.

I am always critical of movies or shows that feature cisgender actors playing transgender characters. It immediately becomes icky because cisgender actors don’t know all of the nuances and intricacies of what it is like to be transgender, and the performance usually comes across as tone-deaf. When this is done with comedy, it is very easy for the performance to become a caricature.

When looking at what actually happens in the series regarding this character — what the character says and what is said about them — I don’t think there is anything actually harmful or bad. I say this being cisgender myself, and recognizing that I am not an authority on what is harmful or bad for transgender people. My point is more that the issue isn’t the writing of the character, but rather the casting.

Now, this series came out in 2015. I feel that our consciousness of transgender issues has grown over the last eight years. If this series was being made today, I don’t think they would have cast Steven Weber in the role. However, I do think it is important for us to recognize past opportunities that weren’t seized to fully represent a group of people that don’t often have representation on screen. If we as the audience get in the habit of looking at these occurrences as mistakes, it makes it more imperative going forward that transgender actors be cast in transgender roles.

Billy met josh

Overall, The Comedians is a fantastic show about the love-hate relationship between two competing comedians. The series utilizes the mockumentary style to the fullest extent, keeping conscious of it in every scene. Billy Crystal and Josh Gad are phenomenal in this show. They play themselves as petulant jerks who are incapable of recognizing anyone else’s success other than their own. The dynamic between Billy and Josh is what makes this show so great, as their relationship goes through a roller coaster of ups and downs over the course of the series.

I really wish this show had stayed on the air. By the end of the series, they are really finding their groove and locking down what kind of show this is. While it certainly borrows elements from similar series, there is something unique and different about the way Crystal and Gad play it. There was so much potential for many more seasons. While we may never get to see any more of The Comedians, the thirteen episodes that do exist are hilarious and are endlessly rewatchable


-Nathanael Molnar