Twenty years ago, terrorists attacked New York City and Washington. Thousands of people were killed in the series of attacks, and America changed forever. No longer was the concept of freedom this abstract thing for many Americans; it became the very thing that was “under attack,” according to President George W. Bush. Now, we know what the former President meant. My government used the concept of freedom as a means of fear-mongering a nation into hating those who looked even remotely Muslim and gave America the power to say that freedom was a very subjective thing. Something that the government could take away at any moment.
One of the most significant ideas to come out of this era of American history is that something that could be deemed “too soon,” meaning jokes about the government or any sensitive topic that was even vaguely political, were no longer allowed. The new documentary, Too Soon: Comedy After 9/11, explores the world of comedy through the testimonies of comedians who had to navigate their way through this era.
Does this documentary portray this complex situation in a way that merits a viewing?
The short answer is no. The longer answer is that it depends on what you like in a documentary.
A documentary should be a well-reasoned picture of the topic, with both sides weighing in on what they think are the pros and cons of their side, all with evidence or testimony. This gives the viewer time to decide after the documentary whether they would like to research the topic further or if the documentary was enough to provide them with insight into a social or political issue they weren’t previously aware of. Unfortunately, most documentaries I see aren’t like that. Usually, what a modern documentary will do is more like a thesis piece. There’s one side telling the story of the issue at the heart of the documentary, leaving most viewers to assume that this is the complete picture of the topic, and they needn’t research further. It’s like taking the acts out of a film. It robs the viewer of a narrative they might be intrigued to learn more about and can easily, especially in the world of streaming, lead the viewer to turn off the documentary because it’s not engaging enough for them to spend any more of their time on.
For a documentary that wants to have this deep discussion about the implications of placing restrictions on a traditionally restriction-free art, Too Soon: Comedy After 9/11 doesn’t seem too interesting in carrying that conversation to its natural conclusion. Instead, it’s much more satisfied showcasing comedians like Lewis Black, Jimmy Carr, Cedric the Entertainer, David Cross, Gilbert Gottfried (among many, many others) and clips of them. It seldom gave me a clear picture of what the comedians were trying to illustrate for viewers. If Pulse Films had gone out and sought politicians or other key figures who were enforcing the rule of “too soon,” I would have liked the documentary a bit more. Even worse, this is attempted at one point, and the moment fails spectacularly for me. I won’t spoil who the interviewee is, so all I’ll say is that the moment worked against the “see? This person thinks it’s okay, so we’re in the clear!” vibe the director was very clearly going for.
Even worse is the music. Music isn’t all that important to me in a documentary, as my primary focus is on the arguments and interviews, but this was distracting. I don’t know if there was some issue with their music department or something, but I’m 99% sure that there’s temporary music throughout. But, unfortunately, all the music sounds so generic and off-putting that it actively pulled me out of the documentary whenever I heard it, and that’s never a good look.
Speaking of looks, this is a downright ugly-looking documentary. The lighting always feels either too much or not enough. Each shot looks like the crew only had twenty minutes per interview to set up and get out of there before the interviewee’s next meeting. It’s downright sloppy. Furthermore, even though I was viewing this film at 1080p, there was a constant blockiness to the documentary that never improved no matter how much I fiddled with my settings. I’m not one to get fussy about image quality, but this is a documentary Vice TV is putting out. They’re known for their high-quality documentaries (story-wise and cinematography-wise), and it’s just not here.
All things considered, Too Soon: Comedy After 9/11 just wasn’t my kind of documentary. So, if you’re okay with a simplistic documentary that doesn’t try to be anything more than a one-sided conversation, this might be for you. Otherwise, stay far away from this documentary. There are no insights gained from watching this documentary. You could easily have the same conversation with your friends or family and get the same results this documentary provides.
Until next time!