Local Jewish comedian Jerry Farber is the subject of a short documentary, “Jerry-atric: One Comic’s 77-Year Climb to the Top of the Bottom,” having its world premiere at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival as part of the third shorts program.
The film’s director, Leanna Adams, is herself a comedian, as well as a writer, producer and actor. Based in Atlanta, Adams runs an online comedy troupe called Decent Humans and is part of the Sketchworks group in Decatur. Her award-winning work has been shown on LaughsTV, TBS, and Funny or Die.
AJT: Why did you pick Jerry Farber for a documentary profile?
Adams: I was talking to my husband one day, and I said someone should do a documentary on this man. He’s a living legend. He’s a social Woody Allen. He can make anyone feel like he’s their friend. He’s the opposite of elitist. He’s down to earth, treats everyone like a real person, and (my husband) said, “Well, why don’t you do a documentary on him?”
AJT: How did it all come about?
Adams: I ran into Jerry in town when I was first getting into comedy — figuring out what I was good at, what I wanted to do. Acting in comedy is my love, my passion, what I have some talent in, but I didn’t know: Is it standup? Is it improv? Is it sketch? So I was dabbling, doing research, going out and seeing shows. I took a standup class, and I went to Jerry’s bar. I had met him before, I knew he was funny, and I liked him, but this one night when I was going to perform, he came to me and said, “What’s your dream?” I told him, “I want to be on ‘SNL’ (‘Saturday Night Live’).” He asked me, “What are you doing every day to make it happen? Are you reading the news?” He just started quizzing me, and he really got me to thinking about news and how to attack it and treat it seriously. He was the first older person in the entertainment industry who talked to me like that and listened to what I said and then gave me advice, and he was so generous with it.
AJT: How did the project evolve?
Adams: I’ve been working on this project with Jerry for the last few years. I knew I wanted to work with him, so first I did a web series with him as the bartender at his bar. It was nice, but he wasn’t that comfortable in the situation, and he didn’t get to shine like I knew he could. He can just riff with people any time. I’m a huge fan of standup, but I couldn’t do the late nights. He’s still so good; I think he mainly kills instead of dies.
AJT: Your film is 18 minutes long. Are you planning a longer version?
Adams: I have more footage on him, and I really would like to do it. His latest club — he closed it. He brokered a deal to get Punchline in there. I was there (filming) the night it closed, and the young comics came and roasted Jerry. There are tons of them dishing at him. Then there were these moments of sweetness like “Jerry is the first one to give me time onstage.” I interviewed some of them.
I want to do more. What is it like to tour as a senior citizen? Lots of crazy comedy could happen if I followed him around some more. I hope people will enjoy the film, but what really drew me to Jerry was that his story is universal. Even if you’re not a standup comedy fan, no matter what you’re doing, just to do it for that long, that was a big draw. And he’s still open about his flaws and willing to give advice.