New documentary dedicated to Robin Williams explores the links between misery and comedy

The actor and director Kevin Pollack dedicates his new documentary, about the link between pain and laughter, to his late friend and mentor, Robin Williams.

Does the best comedy come from pain? And does that mean comedians are the most miserable people of all?

That's what the comic Kevin Pollack wanted to discover in his documentary, Misery Loves Comedy, which premiered on Friday at the Sundance Film Festival in the United States. He dedicated the film "in loving memory and gratitude" to his friend and mentor Robin Williams, whose suicide last year came just as Pollack was finishing the project.

Williams does not appear in the film, though Pollack said he was "quite desperate and interested" to participate. But the long hours Williams worked on his TV series The Crazy Ones prevented him from joining the cast.

Pollack interviewed more than 60 comics, actors and funny folks to find out if comedy requires misery, and found the answer to be both yes and no.

“I just think you’re funnier when you’re miserable,” said Jimmy Fallon.

“I think you have to at least know misery,” Matthew Perry said.

The comic Amy Schumer said that, of her friends, those who are the funniest are also the most miserable.

Lewis Black said: “In order to become a comic, you have to love watching yourself die.”

Even the two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks said he spent “54 and a half years of living in self-loathing”.

The pain of life isn’t limited to comics and performers, Pollack said. “Everyone has suffered through misery,” he said. “It is the human condition. And the performer or the writer or the filmmaker or the actor must figure out a way to articulate it in a way that makes it either relatable or universal.”

Tribeca Film announced on Friday that it had acquired Misery Loves Comedy for distribution and plans to release it in cinemas in the spring.