Hip-Hop was borne of the pain of urban America. Much of the music is driven by the cathartic release of a beaten but not broken people. In the same vein, comedy has also been a means of expression and emotional release from our environment.
In Vince Vaughns Wild West Comedy Show, we have the story of four rising comedians bound by Vaughn’s star power and vision, and united by the pursuit of their dreams. Why should you as Hip-Hoppers care? Because this movie and the trial by fire it chronicles mirrors our struggle and our pursuit of happiness in the face obstruction.
The main journey involves a comedy/improvisational review with a nightmarishly exhausting swath through the heart of America at an amazing 30 shows in 30 days pace. That alone would be enough for a movie, but Vaughn doesn’t take the easy way out.
While many comedy movies use comedy as armor and focus on the material, the Wild West Show uses the material as a lens into the hearts of the comedians which both polarizes their individual lives and brings into focus the commonality of their ride. Aside from all of that, these guys are really some funny motherf*****s!
Along the way they are joined by heavyweight director Jon Favreau who Vaughn met years ago on the set of Rudy, Peter Billingsley who played Ralphie from A Christmas Story, and met Vaughn 20 years ago on the set of an afterschool special and who doubles as a producer on the film, lend some familiarity to a then relatively unknown cast.
Along the way, the comedians give insight to their personal struggles. Ahmed Ahmed, an Egyptian- American comedian, deals with racial and cultural bias in post 9/11 America, highlighted by the stop in Las Vegas, where he was detained at the airport before the 2004 elections a year prior to the tour, simply for being “Middle-Eastern.” He also deals with cultural expectations from his parents. How many of you aspiring emcees have dealt with your parents’ boots on the throat of your aspirations? Exactly. I don’t even need to talk about racial profiling.
Comedian John Caparulo has the love and support of his family, but the way he delivers his comedy with profanity laced exasperation, and passion is almost directly analogous to a rapper. People connect to his brand of humor through his passion much like a young Tupac. Hes performing so he can eventually retire his parents who held him down at his lowest points. While his parents aren’t living in poverty, how similar is his purpose to those who rhyme to “get they momma out the hood?” The similarities don’t stop there.
Bret Ernst uses his comedy as both a way to release his emotions, and a way to deal with the pain of a troubled childhood. His mother raised him and his brothers as a single mom and very often they didnt have what the children around them had. Idle time became trouble as he bagan to get involved with petty crime and juvenile delinquent behavior. The microphone was his savior and his means of release as it is for so many of us trying to find our way in this world. His comedy is his tapestry as he weaves tales from his childhood into his performance.
How many people associated with our culture are working jobs so that they can pay rent, but are doing late shows and going straight to work? Sneaking to the bathroom so they can interview an artist on their lunch hour? Such is the struggle of Sebastian Maniscalco, who waited tables in Hollywood waiting for his time to shine. He once actually served dinner to Vaughn and famously ran off during his shift to perform and then returned to finish his shift. Can’t knock the hustle.
It is Maniscalco’s emotion that captures the true grit of this movie. Although generally more expressive on stage, he breaks down as they reach the final stop on the tour in Chicago. As he reflected on the past month and the high times, and the culmination of all his dreams, he broke down into tears and cried like a man. All I could think about was an exultant Biggie screaming “We did it Brooklyn, we did it!” A dream no longer deferred.
Tying this all together is Vaughn who supplants his ego enough not to dominate the show but to be a facilitator. Think Jigga on La Familia or Dr. Dre providing the platform for all those great Chronic/Chronic 2001 performances. Even though his name makes the project bankable, he is but a part in this story, not the dominant arc.
The Wild West Comedy Show is a story about perseverance. Its a story about brotherhood, of family, and about people using the pain and circumstance of their environment as an engine for change and not a crutch for excuse. For every emcee who isn’t quite there yet, for every writer moonlighting until they latch on to a company or a project, and for anyone hustling to escape conformity, this movie is for you. By the way, these guys are some funny motherf****s.