Based on William Knoedelseder’s nonfiction book of the same name, I’m Dying Up Here took a fairly somber look at the world of stand up comedians, relying very heavily at times on the idea that the funniest people in the room were also the most messed up. As proof, the series began with the suicide of comedian (played by Sebastian Stan), who had just achieved the “dream” of every stand up on the show: to land a spot on Carson and get invited to take a seat after finishing their set. With that as its running theme, the series spent two seasons with a group of up-and-coming comedians as they scratched out a living doing what they loved, even while their personal lives were (sometimes) coming apart at the seams.
Despite starring an Academy Award winner (Leo), and having Carrey’s name as an executive producer, the series struggled to find and audience. It didn’t help that critics weren’t over the moon with the series from the premiere, which, for many, came up short in the one area it should have excelled: being funny. As it turns out, writing good stand up material for a television series about stand ups is a rather difficult task, and as a result, I’m Dying Up Here lost some of the authenticity it might otherwise have capitalized on and built a solid audience with.
The series’ second season did show signs of improvement, as it focused less on the comics’ routines and more on the professional ups and downs of the entertainment industry. A high note was both Ari Graynor’s Cassie Feder missing out on her big TV debut and Clark Duke’s Ron Shack self-destructing after landing a cushy gig on a sitcom playing a Steve Urkel-like recurring character whose popularity outpaced that of the show he was on.
Nevertheless, it seems the changes weren’t enough to bring in a larger audience or to influence Showtime to keep the series around for a third season. Fans of the series can perhaps find the elements they enjoyed in I’m Dying Up Here with Carrey’s aforementioned Kidding, and in 2019 when Showtime releases another period dramedy, Black Monday starring Don Cheadle.
I’m Dying Up Here seasons 1 & 2 are available on Showtime or Showtime Anytime.