The camera flashes back to last week’s episode and catches us up on the plot while a narrator says “Previously on I’m Dying Up Here.” I feel like I’m watching The Wire but with comedians. Then maybe the worst intro music I’ve ever heard plays. Visually everything is cool and retro, but the audio is seriously just the sounds of someone dying through a trumpet and a mysterious woman’s howling cackling laughter. It’s hard to get through. You could put this on your phone and use it as an alarm clock. This sounds like a joke. It is not. Sounding like a joke and not actually being one will be a running theme going forward.
Adam does the open mic at Goldies and tells some jokes about how he sometimes works as a handyman (because his father always breaks things around the house). Then, immediately we are hit with I’m Dying Up Here’s favorite plot device, a heckler interaction. Does Goldies just allow heckling or something? In modern comedy clubs’ security will ask you to leave if you relentlessly heckle the open mic show. Maybe this is happening because it’s in the past. Maybe in the 1980’s there was a comedian’s civil rights amendment passed that I don’t know about. Anyways the heckler is old school 1970’s racist and asks Adam for “a shine.” Adam annihilates the heckler with screenwritten heckler-destruction dialogue. If we were in modern times there would be a Youtube video of this that Adam would be trying desperately to make go viral. His character is kind of likeable in this moment, even though the lines are kind of stiff. Meanwhile, Goldie and the other bookers are playing cards. One of them has a pair of aces even though they’re playing Spades or something where that wouldn’t be as important as if they were playing poker. Screenwriters always do this. Whenever people onscreen are playing cards they’re always doing all of this stuff that no one who actually plays cards regularly would ever do, like holding their cards up in front of them fanned out. I used to play a lot of poker and this always bothered me. Screenwriters don’t care because the story isn’t in the details, it’s in the tried and true plot structures and creative use of themes. The problem is, anyone who’s actually played cards going to lose their suspension of disbelief for a moment, and anyone who’s actually done stand-up comedy is going to be losing their mind.
Later, Ralph is in the men’s room urinating next to the heckler, playing very coy as the heckler calls Bill Cosby a spook and speaks loudly and unwisely about his theories on comedy. This is true to life. These people exist and usually suck as hard as this guy sucks. Ralph delivers a way too on the nose riff on the comedic axiom “timing is everything” and removes the air powered hand dryer from the wall in order to bash the guy in the face with it. He beats the dog shit out of the dude, really throws down. It feels like I’m watching a Guy Ritchie movie or something. I bust out laughing. I am not sure if I am supposed to be laughing right now. Ralph leaves and says to the entering Edgar Martinez, “careful, the floor’s wet.” Edgar crouches down and in a moment of actually very funny misdirection and character exposition, he says to the bloodied body “you wanna buy some weed?”
Bill and Cass are laying delivering cringey banter about Bill’s excitement for a new bit he’s working on. He stands up and starts doing the bit for her. It’s about how Pablo Picasso just died. I think that people that write shows like this sometimes think that comedians scour the newspaper every Sunday and use it for prompts to write SNL Weekend Update style bits. I know about 3 people that actually do this. All three of them are trying to get on SNL Weekend Update. Ron and Eddie struggle to get laundry done while eating space food in their closet apartment. They talk to Maggie about her job at the studio where they film Let’s Make a Deal. Adam gets called into Goldie’s office in what appears to be a talk about him getting spots, before she disappoints him by offering him handyman work at her house. She saw his act.
Goldie gathers the top tier comics around to reveal the lineup for a big TV showcase they’ll be doing. They hem and haw over their respective slots in the night’s lineup. This is a real thing. It sucks to go up first. It kind of sucks to go up last even though you’re technically headlining. It sucks when they make you emcee the showcase and tell you that it’s still sort of an audition (no one ever gets booked from that slot). It sucks to follow someone who you know is going to kill, and it sucks to follow someone who you know is going to bomb. Goldie bangs her proverbial gavel and sends them on their way. In the day leading up to the showcase, Edgar zips around the club trying to get in everyone’s head. The camera follows him in that cool Scorsese Birdman ish style. Cass and Bill talk about his material, his new Picasso bit, and his tried and true “marriage” chunk. This is sort of true to life, but it’s as cringeworthy in real life as it is in this dialogue. Sully, annoyed with Edgar, purposely sabotages his introduction while bringing him to the stage. Edgar bombs hard because of it. I will admit it is fun seeing things like this used as plot devices. A lot of the themes and plot lines are genuine, the dialogue is just so forced at times, as is the case in a lot of the stand-up.
After his set, Edgar rushes into the green room and attacks sully in a very nerdy schoolyard-ish way. Goldie breaks up the fight but the two are still at each other’s throats. Edgar gets back at Sully by paying a homeless man to take a dump in his car. Edgar is a lunatic. Meanwhile, Adam paints a room in Goldie’s house. He tries over and over to riff with her while working and she coldly shuts him down every time. He gets curious about why he’s painting a pink room green and she vaguely alludes to a daughter that no longer lives with her. There is also an empty birdcage and a box with a dead bird in it, for symbolism. She’s called away from the house to go yell at Edgar and Sully again. She’s surprisingly more mad at Sully for destroying Edgar’s intro and bringing this upon himself. She’s the sergeant, Sully’s the straight shooter, and Edgar’s the loose cannon. I wouldn’t be surprised if she said “I’m six goddamn months from retirement” at some point.
Bill gets chosen to perform on Midnight Special, a late night show. Him and Cass shop for suits and banter about his big break. As established in the pilot, this is a big deal. Meanwhile Ron and Eddie get onto Let’s Make A Deal and go from winning 200 dollars to almost winning a Cadillac to ending up with the joke consolation prize of a year’s supply of Rice-a-Roni which they end up being totally stoked about. I find this story arc to be the most compelling and genuine, probably because it doesn’t fall victim to the trappings of the stand up centered plot lines. Bill’s parents come into town to watch his Midnight Special premiere and his dad in particular is racist, sexist, and serves as a great example of the social gap between the characters and their Greatest Generation parents. Bill’s dad cleverly displays the racism and sexism of the era in a way that reminds me of the experience of watching Mad Men and congratulating yourself for feeling smart when you get that people were dumber in the past. Bill displays some patrilineally descended ignorance and has trouble respecting his girlfriend’s grind at comedy. He doesn’t take it seriously when she leaves to prepare for her 2 AM spot at Goldies (do these comics ever work anywhere besides Goldies?). Bill confronts her seconds before she’s supposed to be introduced and called on stage, which is a dick move. He then commits an egregious comedy offense, he bumps her. He takes the stage instead of her and launches into his horrible act that we, like his girlfriend have now heard enough times to relish hating. He bombs, and I start to understand that the main stage is going to serve as the climax for each character’s personal episode arc. I miss watching LOST before it sucked. Bill has a meltdown. It’s like someone asked a million year old comedian to describe every trope in stand up and then they built a show by using them as plot devices. It is a pretty good meltdown though. A table of women is talking and he attempts to bust them because this show only knows how to tell stories through heckler encounters. He makes everyone uncomfortable as he attempts to contextualize being a psychotic dick to a table of paying customers as stand up comedy. He is Michael Richards. He is dying up there. He storms out of the room. The camera work here is pretty cool. It feels like what that moment feels like.
Goldie opens up to Adam and tells him that the daughter who the room once belonged to took off with what sounds like some kind of Manson Family situation. He agrees to keep working for her around the house. The subtext is kind of sweet and kind of racially unsettling (Adam is a young black male and Goldie is an old white woman). Later, Goldie tells a god awful street joke to him (I think it was supposed to read as a good street joke, a classic) and dies laughing at her own joke. He then either starts laughing too are his character fakes laughing to please her. I can’t tell. He’s a good actor so I’m going to lean toward the latter. They bond and drink. Cass brings Bill the suit he bought for his Midnight Special appearance just as he’s finding out that someone from the show was in the audience during his meltdown and his spot has been canceled. He is devastated as he tells her, and then his father. Papa Hobbs delivers a chilling monologue about how fate was cruel to his father, to him, and now to Bill. It’s good. For all of its flaws, the episode’s tragic twist is a relatable story. I have fucked things up that badly before. I know how it feels. He returns to the club and demands that everyone roast him about it, as a way of cleansing himself of the humiliation. The do, badly, because of screenwriting. It’s still a sweet moment. In the coda, Sully hires 4 homeless men to shit in Edgar’s car so that they can get square and mend their friendship. Ron and Eddie eat Rice-A-Roni, and Bill returns to the main stage in order to redeem himself with his horrible act. It’s portrayed as killing this time because he’s back in a good headspace and made things right with Cass. It still sucks. I want to heckle him through the TV but he would obviously have a great comeback.