Stand Up Girls offers viewers an interesting, but difficult to work premise. It follows the lives of three dreadful stand-up comedians and their adventures over the course of (about) a week. The episodic, short form comedy chooses to focus on each of its leading ladies in equal part, and perhaps unwisely, Ursula (Stephanie Kornick), Delores (Hollie Lee) and Harper’s (Jenna Brister) careers as struggling stand-up performers is central to the shows structure.
Opting for a somewhat stylised narrative presentation, the not-so-comic trio’s awkward stand-up performances are intercut with the shows’ ongoing narrative and the material itself acts as a contextual link between scenes. The implication is that the storyline events we see unfold throughout the day provides ripe comic material for the girls’ nighttime routines. It’s all very clever sounding when laid out like this, and on paper the concept is a brilliant one. Unfortunately in practice, Stand Up Girls just doesn’t get it right.
Edited with a playful back and forth between its stand up and its story, Stand Up Girls sadly never gets clever with its gimmick. It’s entertaining enough to follow the loosely trailed thread of plot from one scene to the next, but the show tells its fairly simplistic story in a disappointingly mundane way. The plot, thin as it is, doesn’t quite sustain eight episodes of intrigue, and with what little time there is left between the slow-crawling stand-up sessions, the entire series ends up feeling like an extremely long montage peppered with poorly-constructed and ill-timed jokes.
Despite its threadbare plotting, each episode of the show begins with a “previously on” flash back. Hilariously enough, a hugely disproportionate number of these segments seem to focus on very minor events from episodes 1 and 2 involving a homeless man living on a couch thrown away by Ursula. If somebody put together a mega-cut of all the “previously on” segments, you’d think this man was the star of the series.
Balancing its leads, each episode casts the spotlight on one particular character, but none of the bunch ever get any true development over the story’s duration. Delores and Ursula are both irrational, rude and self involved from pilot to end. Harper has a more relaxed, but ultimately all to passive personality – she’s the only remotely watchable character within the core cast, and yet she spends all eight episodes of the show meekly reacting to a plot that unfolds around her.
Harper represents the closest thing that we, the audience have to an “in” – a character we can get behind and root for; if Harper had been written with more thought and attention, the show would only be half as bad as it is now. Sadly, I’m left with the impression that Writers Amy K. Green & Blair Skinner were unwilling stir up any meaningful conflict within the all-female cast; the ladies’ unfaltering friendship instead comes off as a misguided attempt at positively representing female solidarity, and the quality of the series suffers as a direct result of this.
If Harper could have existed as a harsh but fair voice of reason at the expense of the groups unquestioning camaraderie, Delores and Ursula would have had the freedom to act as selfishly, loudly and obnoxiously as they wanted without driving away viewers. As it stands, the two are left unchecked to run rampant, their irritating personalities make the show impossible to enjoy.
Unfairly, none of this is the fault of the talented actresses actually playing these parts – every role is performed well and actresses Kornick, Lee and Brister all bring enjoyable physicality to their roles. With better material, I believe this trio could genuinely carry a comic series.
Episodes 1 and 2 are perhaps Stand Up Girls’ weakest offerings. Together, they create a terrible first impression. As the show goes on, it becomes incrementally more watchable until everything climaxes with a passable last episode. In other words, creative duo Amy K. Green & Blair Skinner are clearly improving with experience.
The stand-up gimmick remains throughout, and with hindsight, is largely responsible for the series’ flawed pacing – every time an episode picks up steam, we’re dumped into an intentionally bad stand-up routine which kills any and all momentum. Worst of all, it doesn’t have to have been this way – after all, watching somebody absolutely die on stage can be a hilariously cruel source of humour. Oddly, Stand Up Girls’ key routines are performed and shot in a completely straight fashion, the total silence and lack of reactive crowd shots strips them of any point, or punchline. The end result is confused – are we supposed to be laughing at the bad jokes, or at the bad performance? The answer is presumably the latter, but poorly selected shots, cuts and generally aimless direction muddy this intention.
The end result feels neither cringe inducing or naturally funny in its own right – it just comes off as slow, miserable and depressing.
I’m confident that in different hands, Stand Up Girls’ basic idea – a group of terrible stand-up comedians and their mis-adventures – could work brilliantly as a solid, cleverly layered “cringe comedy”. It’s easy to imagine laughing as a humorously down-trodden comic resignedly gives it her best in front of a tough crowd. Sadly, Stand Up Girls never quite commits to the self-deprecating lows necessary to cultivate that crucial sense of guilty glee from the rubble of its inherent pathos.
In fact, pathos is something the show lacks all-together. Its characters are for the most part unashamedly awful, willfully irritating – loud, brash and unapologetic. Classic comic traits, yes, but traits which only work as part of a balanced cast replete with reasonable and relatable roles for the viewer to root for – sensible personalities able to call these larger-than-life caricatures out on their terrible behavior. Lacking such balance, Stand Up Girls is like some nightmare episode of South Park in which every character is played by Cartman. “Great” on paper, horrible in execution.
Tellingly, I’m not alone in my criticism. Vimeo commenter “The Critic” sums up this lengthy review on only 22 words.
You can watch Stand-Up Girls over at Vimeo. Episode 1 embedded below.