With the likes of Sarah Silverman and Moby singing the film's praise Punching the Clown certainly is a huge industry in-joke yet it is also accessible for general fans of comedy.
Aspiring - and frankly hopeless- muso comedian Henry Phillips (as himself) plays the lamest and most inappropriate venues for his specific form of dark comedy folk music. He moves to LA and in with his wannabe actor - think 'Batman at kids' parties - brother (Matt Walker) , picks up an amiable agent and gets noticed for all the wrong reasons at a high profile event. Before long he is caught up in a lie even he is not fully aware of as he commits to record contracts and gets booked into packed gigs. His identity and assumed fame become fodder for hilarious and bizarre moments.
Henry Phillips is directed as himself in this pseudo-mock tale that ribs his unique form of folk comedy. Each song is cleverly written and easily identifiable, yet in Punching the Clown his words are treated as the plague. This indie dramedy follows Henry from zero to limbo-assumed hero as bigwigs scramble to sign him up for all sorts of fame after a freak encounter with a huge musician is misunderstood by all involved. These scenes do not feel at trite, though there is something uncanny when these situations occur for Henry they are handled so well by all involved with a slight hyper-reality that never overdoes things. One particularly excellent example of this is the rambling camera at an industry party as it follows one person to the next in a chain effect of fake nonsensical industry talk and backstabbing; it is very sly and very funny.
There are moments here which bring back scenes from situational comedies like Curb Your Enthusiasm. A scene where Henry asks about bagels, for instance, is blown out to absurd proportions to the point where he is scandalized as a racist. How it gets there has to be seen to be believed.
The scenes that wane are kept interesting by the deadpan nature of Phillips' performance. Despite the comedy there is also some soul searching in Punching the Clown as Henry tries to find his place amidst all the assumed chaos.
Punching the Clown is a low budget, highly charming deadpan situational comedy that although is a festival darling and industry-specific is also hilarious enough on its own basic merits.
Punching the Clown is out now on DVD from Viavision.