There is finally a watchable copy of Rick Reynolds’ HBO special “Only the Truth is Funny” available on YouTube. The previous version had out-of-sync sound but this one is perfect. I highly recommend it for fans of confessional comedy.
I’ve now performed “Panther Hollow” a half dozen times and it’s become very obvious to me that my three main inspirations for the piece are Lauren Weedman’s “Bust,” Mike Dugan’s “Men Fake Foreplay,” and this televised work from 1991. I know Lauren and Mike so I’ve had the opportunity to tell them how much I appreciate their work. But I’ve never met Rick. In fact, he seems to be off the grid at the moment, so I put this here with the hope that he’ll see it somehow.
Reynolds wasn’t the first to inject truth into comedy. Richard Pryor had been using stand-up to stare into the abyss for awhile by this point. But Reynolds’ breezy delivery and sheer honesty was different. He was a cynical bastard who believed in the power of love. He survived a childhood full of domestic abuse and still managed to discover a love for family. And more important than any of this, he was freaking hilarious. The show is a combination of autobiography and stand-up comedy. Reynold’s somehow manages the encapsulate the full experience of graduating from the pain and nostalgia of childhood to the awkward responsibility of adulthood.
Even now, I realize that the description I’ve written makes it all seem very Pollyannaesque and I supposed parts of it are. But there’s a sharp and, at times, bitter edge to Reynold’s humor that keeps it real and sincere.
Reynolds followed up this show with another called “All Grown Up With No Place to Go.” It was less satisfying, perhaps, but still just as funny and just as real. A sitcom based on his work (and co-starring Pam Dawber) didn’t catch fire. With the exception of something called “The Happiness Project” more than a decade ago, Rick seems to have retired from the public eye or, at the very least, from the internet. I hope he’s out there somewhere and I hope he knows that people still remember this remarkable piece of work. Many of us that saw it watched it over and over. I’m keenly aware that when I’m on stage performing “Panther Hollow,” that Rick’s mannerisms and vocal inflections sometimes find their way into my delivery.
Anyway, if you’ve never seen it, here it is. Some of it may seem familiar, particularly if you’ve paid attention to the work of people like Mike Birbiglia or Tig Notaro. But remember, this was 25 years ago. Before “The Moth,” and “This American Life,” and the current storytelling craze, Rick was there first.