REVIEW: ‘Standing Up’ is a Very Funny Drama About Comedy

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Standing Up - But Why Tho

Standing Up is a French-language Netflix Original dramedy about a has-been comic struggling with losing his touch, a comic whose sudden shot to fame gets between her and her partner, a comic whose self-confidence is far lower than it deserves, and a comic who aspires to greatest but struggles to let herself loose.

You wouldn’t necessarily think a show about a group of stand-up comics would be as dramatic as Standing Up is, but it’s not all jokes and laughs in this show and frankly, that’s perfect. Standing Up is a great show whose great cast and their various personal and interpersonal plights make for just as much entertainment as the stand-up they perform. We start the show with Bling (Jean Siuen), whose rise to stardom is only matched by its subsequent crash and the anger, idleness, and drugs that have consumed his life of late.

He turns to a shy but utterly wholesome friend, Nezir (Younes Boucif) to ghostwrite his content. Nezir is dirt poor, so he accepts, knowing it will probably turn out to be a bad idea in the long run. His only confidant is his friend and fellow stand-up Aïssatou (Mariama Gueye) whose recent bit involving an intimate story about her husband has given her sudden fame and adoration, much to his chagrin. Meanwhile, there’s a kind of sketchy new girl who has been hanging around a lot, Apolline (Elsa Guedj) who caught Nezir’s eye and vice versa.

And again, all of that drama is surrounded by constant stand-up bits and general humor and levity. The show strikes a perfect balance between its tones. I’ll admit that in the first several episodes, I didn’t find much of the stand-up material very funny. Perhaps it’s in part lost in translation, but it may also be a part of the natural arc of a comedy show in real life since by the end I found just about everything anybody said hilarious. At first, the audience is cold, doesn’t know the characters, and may be reticent about laughing. But by the end, you love everybody on-screen and are more inclined to go along with their jokes just because you like them.

Nezir embodies this reflection of what he distills stand-up comedy down to himself: jokes that have enough detail to feel interesting and specific but enough universality to feel like you see yourself in it. Nezir is truly one of the most wholesome characters I’ve watched in a while. He’s just so sweet and kind and thoughtful, cares deeply about his friends but knows how to ultimately stand up for himself when he has to. His arc is about gaining confidence and putting himself first, but in his relationships with Bling, Aïssa, and Apolline, as well as his hilarious father Ibrahim (Mouss Zouheyri) it’s impossible not to find something relatable. He is the through-line in the show that keeps everything grounded.

The name Standing Up is a bit of a misnomer, though. While certainly it’s about Nezir and Apolline learning to stand up for themselves, and honestly Nezir literally standing for everyone else around him at the same time, I can’t say that it feels like Bling or Aïssa ever wind up standing up for anything in particular. Aïssa is given the burden as the show’s Black lead of having to confront comedy’s pendulum between speaking your truth and speaking to a universal audience without ruffling feathers. It’s almost more of a diversion from her main plot of how her career is affecting her boyfriend and whole family than it is an attempt to wrestle with injustice. Which itself was a totally effective plotline that also got watered down by her having too many plates to hold as a character.

Bling similarly confounded me just because it’s so hard to tell whether he’s somebody that should be rooted for or not. In a time when stand-up comedy and its more famous purveyors have been in the zeitgeist for a number of overlapping reasons of late, it feels like Bling is simultaneously supposed to be a sympathetic character and a stand-in for the types of comics who have been under fire of late. And these are not two qualities that can be reconciled.

Fortunately, the show avoids becoming too preachy by making it clear what the comics are and aren’t okay with in comedy and comedians early on and over again, it’s just unfortunate that it renders a whole main character with less dynamism than he could have if his arc had more of a clear direction.

The show doesn’t necessarily succeed in any of the moments where you think it’s metatextually addressing current social issues or the modern world of comedy. Fortunately, the show just opts to just be really forthright in demonstrating ways that comedy can be subversive and challenging without having to be offensive or inappropriate. Much of the stand-up material is explicit, raunchy, and not for everyone. But it’s also shown as normal that not everyone enjoys it and normal that people enjoy the more crude subjects that come up. It’s a really smart way to just show what it thinks about comedy rather than trying to wax poetic about it or try to get too creative in addressing it.

Standing Up is a very funny drama about comedy. Its plots and characters aren’t always perfectly balanced, but its core values and Nezir as the real heart of the show make the show quite fun and a great demonstration of how comedy can be subversive without being offensive.

Standing Up is streaming now on Netflix.


Standing Up
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    Rating - 8.5/10
8.5/10

TL;DR

Standing Up is a very funny drama about comedy. Its plots and characters aren’t always perfectly balanced, but its core values and Nezir as the real heart of the show make the show quite fun and a great demonstration of how comedy can be subversive without being offensive.