Unbound by the restraints of self-awareness and the measure of good taste. Propelled by desperation and delusion. Stoked by a persistent flame of self-belief. Unsolicited Material constitutes the life’s work – in a very real sense – of self-professed madcap comedian, Ed Surname. ‘Comedy’ and ‘comedian’ are tags that should be adopted lightly, however, as it would take an extremely sympathetic observer to coin the same.
On offer is a documentary chronicling the travails of Ed Surname over a 17 year period (footage dates back as far as 1998) as he tries to make his way as a comedian. The 100 minutes on offer mark the consequence of an incredible 10,000 tapes whittled down into a single film. Surname has acted as editor, director and star, and he has spliced his footage into a dizzying concoction of intimate home video and staged antics. The time frame dips in and out of the past and the present.
Think Jackass-meets-Capturing the Friedmans (without the sinister undertone, of course) or Thomas Meadmore’s hit of last year’s East End film festival, How To Lose Jobs and Alienate Girlfriends. Sadly, in the case of Surname’s film, it is not as compelling as any of the listed. Simply put, there is little comedy here. And it is not for want of trying. He does every crazy stunt imaginable. There is no shame. Seemingly, nothing is off-limits, including his Nan wiping his behind clean, defecating in front of an unsuspecting public, having a cat vomit into his mouth, and offering a penis candle to his elderly grandparent and asking her to blow it out. On screen, all of this is even worse than it sounds.
The measure of a good comedian is to make their trade to appear effortless. In the case of Surname, you can feel every ounce of projection. It is tiring to be in his company for almost 100 minutes. It is a vanity project that is almost unbearable and in dire need of a hefty edit. There is much to loathe. Surname proves to be a publicity pest and there seems little in the way of care as to whether or not notoriety and infamy would be the triumphing facet of his quest.
That said, some props need to be offered to a man whose life became his art, as art became his life. As he states in the film, he was ‘the first comedian who did, from the first generation who could’. You have to admit that his approach took foresight. It is curious that he exhibits insightful and incisive homespun wisdom in the few quiet moments of reflection in Unsolicited Material. It is the final 15 minutes that provides a degree of salvation for this extended vanity project (and one that fails to fulfil many of the briefs set out by the filmmaker). His pithy epithets of rationale showcase an intellectual brain behind the arrested development of this man-child. And when he remarks that the sign of depression is when you are left hoping that ‘the light at the end of the tunnel is a train’, you can’t help but warm to him. It is just a pity that the preceding 80 minutes have shown a man deserving very little.
All in all, you cannot help but think that he could find future success in describing his failures. To wit it is true that irony is a bizarre, but nevertheless instructive notion, and Surname would do well to ponder this in the next chapter of his life.
Review by Greg Wetherall
Cameras followed an aspiring comedian 24/7 for 20 years, creating a real-life comedy which asks if following a childhood dream is the meaning of life or an unrealistic waste of time.
This Grand Jury-nominated documentary explores the mask that a comedian wears for his public persona and the resulting personal costs. Made from 10000 tapes, it looks inside the mind of an entertainer in a way no other film could ever do.
WATCH TRAILER ON TWITTER @EdSurname
12 August 2016 – 14 August 2016 at 12:00pm