‘I’m Dying Up Here’: Jim Carrey’s Ode to ’70s Standup Comedy

I'm Dying Up Here © 2016 Showtime Credit: Patrick Ecclesine

Although he honed his standup comedy career in the 1980s, Jim Carrey is onboard as an executive producer of Showtime’s terrific new drama series I’m Dying Up Here, which is set in L.A. during what is considered the heyday of standup comedy in the 1970s.

“For a very long time, I have wanted to do something about this era,” Carrey told reporters at a press conference earlier this year. “I have the greatest respect and love and admiration for the people whose ministry it is to free the world from concern.”

It’s the era when legends like David Letterman, Jay Leno and Richard Pryor launched their careers, and when edgy, topical, insightful humor really began to find its stride.

“We were coming out of the ’60s,” Carrey said of this time in comedy. “We were coming out of Vietnam and Nixon. And it was a very intense time, and that helped give birth to a new attitude and a new desire to express yourself and say those edgy things and those edgy truths.” And although comedians of that and any time may be able to “free the world from concern” through telling such truths and eliciting laughs, it often turns out that many of them have their own concerns, and demons, which may not be so easy to be freed from.

The series delves into such complicated psyches through its fictional characters, a group of competitive but close-knit comics who are mentored by Goldie (Oscar winner Melissa Leo), a brassy comedy club owner. Along with Leo, the ensemble cast — some of whom have standup comedy backgrounds in real life — includes Ari Graynor (TV’s Bad Teacher), Erik Griffin (Workaholics), Michael Angarano (The Knick), Clark Duke (Hot Tub Time Machine), Al Madrigal (The Daily Show) and more.

Like the best standup comedy, I’m Dying Up Here balances hilarious laughs with its truth-telling as it shifts from onstage acts to real-life drama. It may be hard enough to come up with a real standup act capable of making people laugh, but for this show, the fictional comedians needed sets written, and executive producer Dave Flebotte said that could be a challenge.

“It’s the hardest part of the show, I think,” Flebotte said. “And we notice, too, that when we watch a lot of the ’70s — early ’70s standup — by today’s standards, you might not laugh. So, in trying to stay true to the time period, the line we always have to straddle is making it funny for today’s audience, but keeping it true to the ’70s perspective.”

I’m Dying Up Here > Showtime > Sundays beginning June 4 at 10pm ET/PT