Kind of like its wordy title, Vince Vaughn’s Wild West Comedy Show: 30 Days & 30 Nights: Hollywood to the Heartland is a little too long and a little too obvious. Shot over thirty days on the road with Vaughn and his handpicked troupe of four comics and famous friends as they travel 6000 miles to bring hip LA comedy to regional audiences, it’s a road trip document of epic proportions.
Beginning with a star studded show in Los Angeles the movie follows this boy’s club—the closest thing to a female presence on the tour is Justin Long wearing a wig at one show—as they move east stopping in towns big and small. Like the title tells us, it’s thirty shows in thirty days, in places ranging from Bakersfield, California to the Hurricane Katrina ravaged South and finally in Vaughn’s home town of Chicago.
The show was probably really fun if you saw it live. Particularly if the bar was open and the drinks were cheap. Four stand-ups—Ahmed Ahmed, John Caparulo, Bret Ernst and Sebastian Mansicalco—provide the backbone of the show, and while none are the most original comic voices out there, each are enthusiastic performers. Trouble is, in its heart stand-up is a live medium, and while these guys probably rocked the clubs and soft seat theaters on the tour—there’s plenty of cut-a-ways to people laughing—it doesn’t translate well to the big screen. Blown up to big screen size the intimacy needed for this brand of observational humor to work evaporates. They raise a few genuine laughs here and there, but left me with the feeling that I’d be enjoying this more if I was sitting ringside in a club.
More effective are some of the live skits featuring Vaughn’s celebrity friends. Jon Favreau has some fun sending up Vaughn’s acting ability and former child star (and Vaughn’s best friend and co-producer of the movie) Peter A Christmas Story Billingsley, provides a highlight when he and Vaughn recreate a scene from The Fourth Man, a steroid-themed After School Special in which they co-starred in 1990.
The film cuts back and forth between the on stage antics and scenes of life on the road. It’s hardly glamorous; a broken toilet in San Diego dampens morale, cramped quarters take their toll and a bleary Billingsley tears a strip off Justin Long when a prank wakes him up.
More interesting is the insight into the performer’s craft. Caparulo, so casual and down to earth on stage, carefully studies the room each night before stepping in front of an audience. If the place is too big, he says, it’s harder to make people laugh. Low ceilings are good for comedy he adds. Ernst beats himself up after a sloppy show and Ahmed Ahmed goes to the Clark County Courthouse where he was jailed for twelve hours for the “crime” of being Middle Eastern in post 9/11 Las Vegas. The film will do little to quell people’s idea that all comics are neurotic, but the behind-the-scenes material is often more entertaining than the live show footage.
Some of the backstage scenes are compelling; some interesting, but they don’t cover anything that Jerry Seinfeld’s documentary Comedian didn’t. Director Ari Sandel has a hard time finding the right balance between the on and off stage scenes to make this a really effective portrait of life on the road.
Like Dave Chappelle’s Block Party, Vince Vaughn’s Wild West Comedy Show: 30 Days & 30 Nights: Hollywood to the Heartland is about the joy of live performance, but unlike Chappelle’s film Wild West overstays its welcome by twenty minutes, leaving the audience almost as road weary as the performers after their thirtieth show in a row.