The Amazing Johnathan has long been one of the most interesting stand-up comedians. Combining magic, jokes and prop comedy, he makes the stupid smart and the silly sublime. Sidelined with a heart condition, he was only given a year to live. But he persevered, returning to tour against his doctor's advice. This would seemingly be the perfect set-up for a documentary: How does a comedian keep people laughing in the face of a grim prognosis? Will returning to do what gives him life be the death of him?
But this is not the direction this still-untitled documentary takes. In fact, I'm not aware of any documentary that keeps zigging and zagging like this, affecting the filmmaker to the point where it partly becomes a documentary about him. The big source of tension arrives early on, when director Ben Berman (an Adult Swim and Comedy Central vet) learns Johnathan has hired another crew to work on their own documentary about his life, and basically lets them compete for prime interview time and shooting space at the theaters on his tour.
It's such a source of stress that Ben even considers smoking crystal meth on-screen with Johnathan just so he'll have some footage no one else does. But while the twists and turns are surprising, the footage we see here proves it's not hard for Johnathan to drive someone crazy. He's a mess of contradictions: a fun guy who's also a bit of a dick, a guy who's determined but can't kick his addictions, someone who wants attention but can't help but push people away.
The film takes so many detours and circles back, pausing to comment on the latest insane information we just received, it's as much a deconstruction of documentaries as it is one itself. I don't know what all legal issues the film will have to resolve before it gets released or even gets a title, but it will be worth it. Pulling this film off really required some magic.