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"The History of Comedy" is not just one laugh after another.
Oh, there are certainly a lot of laughs in CNN's eight-part documentary series, which will screen two episodes at the Sundance Film Festival. But it's really about "unique and different" people who "see the world differently," said executive producer Sean Hayes ("Will & Grace"). "I think that's what our show does and that's what comedy does, in general, is kind of shine the light on the serious with a funny twist to it."
Two episodes will be screened back-to-back (Saturday, Jan 21, 11:30 a.m., Egyptian Theatre; Saturday, Jan. 28, 9 p.m., Salt Lake City Library), and they are emblematic of the series. "Going Blue" features people including Larry David, Sarah Silverman, Jimmy Kimmel and Conan O'Brien "all talking about what it means to go blue, and why they do it or they don't do it," said executive producer Mark Herzog. The other is "Spark of Madness," which explores "the idea that many comedians come from a place of darkness."
Yes, "The History of Comedy" features clips from many of the greatest American comedians, classical and seminal comedy from the likes of Lenny Bruce and George Carlin.
And the list of people interviewed for the docu-series is impressive it includes Judd Apatow, Sen. Al Franken, Margaret Cho, Samantha Bee, Kathy Griffin, George Lopez, Keegan-Michael Key, Dick Gregory, Patton Oswalt, Dick Cavett, Ali Wong and W. Kamau Bell.
(Bell, who not coincidentally has a show on CNN called "United Shades of America," will moderate the Q&A session after the Jan. 21 screening of "The History of Comedy.")
What the producers set out to do was put together "a little bit of a different treatment on comedy," said executive producer Todd Milliner. "There's so much heart in this series that you end up a little winded on a couple of these episodes. Especially the dark side the 'Spark of Madness.' You realize that a lot of comedy comes from pain. A lot of times comedy and heart make each other better."
"We called it 'The History of Comedy,' but we should have called it 'A Serious Look at Comedy,' " Herzog said. "It really is a serious look at comedy. You laugh, but you also know where the joke came from."
Millions of viewers will see the program when it airs on CNN, but the producers are pretty excited that a few hundred will see a couple of the episodes in Park City.
"Sean [Hayes] and I are TV guys, so we never thought we'd be allowed in Sundance," Milliner said with a laugh. "So it's really quite an honor. I'm very proud of it. I've been telling everybody about it. It feels like a certain level of credibility."
"This is a really big deal," Herzog agreed.
Two episodes of "The History of Comedy" will screen on Saturday, Jan. 21, at 11:30 a.m. at the Egyptian Theatre; and on Saturday, Jan. 28, at 9 p.m. at the Salt Lake City Library.