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‘For Madmen Only’ review: Thin line between laughs and hate

Snuff out the light.

Comedy is arguably the most polarizing form of expression in existence. As with anything in life, each person will have their own personal opinion on what is funny and what is not. This is partially because there are so many kinds. From slapstick, to romantic comedy to extreme jokes that violate social taboos, comedians have tried a number of different ways to make audiences laugh. One of the most divisive forms is improv. Some see it as high art while others see it as random nonsense.

Del Close is one of the most influential improv comics of all time. Tina Fey and Bill Murray are just two of the names that studied under him. In his career, he also invented a long form improv technique called “The Harold”, became a fire eater, and spent time at mental institutions. To say For Madmen Only is a documentary about one of comedy’s most unique figures is an understatement.

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Director Heather Ross covers her subject’s life without ignoring the dark forces that shaped it. Close would often talk about his father’s suicide and wrote an autobiographical comic for DC called Wasteland. (This comic is the framework of For Madmen Only in a creative touch that partially offsets that standard talking head format that is also followed.) Close is also referred to as akin to a cult leader by Fey.

The thin line between creativity and madness is a running theme in For Madmen Only. Close may have taught some of the most well known comics of the past 25 years, but there is a reason few outside of the business know his name. He formed many partnerships only to burn bridges. He believed comedy improv did not necessarily have to be funny. He was a complicated person to say the least.

It can be difficult going into a documentary when the person being covered is completely unknown to the viewer. For Madmen Only quickly explains why Del Close probably is not know while also introducing audiences to his crazy funny world. The film is a fun look at one of comedy’s most important characters.

For Madmen Only releases on Apple TV and Altavod on July 27. 

Special screening events take place with a Comic-Con@Home panel discussion on July 25th


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