REVIEW: Waiting for the Punchline (2019 – Documentary)

Poster – Rooster Teeth

The following is a short review of the RT Doc ‘Waiting for the Punchline‘ — Directed by Mat Hames.

Nick Scarpino is a co-founder of the San Francisco-based online entertainment company Kinda Funny. Before he began appearing on-camera during podcasts for Kinda Funny, he was most comfortable behind the scenes as a producer. Having found an audience and a sufficient amount of confidence, Scarpino, in early 2017, revealed to the other members of Kinda Funny that he wanted to try stand-up comedy. This documentary, Mat Hames’ Waiting for the Punchline, details his experience as a San Francisco stand-up who desperately wants a chance to do comedy on the stage of a notable San Francisco comedy club.

Full disclosure, I have been a big fan of the founders of Kinda Funny since before they decided on the name. I’ve supported their Patreon for years at various different subscription tiers. I want to make this clear up front because when I watched this documentary, I did so with a lot of previous knowledge about pretty much every online personality present in it. I really enjoy watching these people’s content. Therefore, there is a good chance that I would enjoy it more than someone who just watched it on a whim. As a matter of fact, unless you’ve seen it at a film festival, it is currently, to the best of my knowledge, only able to be viewed with a subscription to Rooster Teeth First.

With that out of the way, let’s talk about what I think works really well about Waiting for the Punchline. First and foremost, Nick Scarpino is an earnest documentary subject with a lot of guts and palpable passion. Although he makes sure most of his friends have a built-in audience when they test their skills at a stand-up show, Scarpino doesn’t take the easy way to the top. Seeing him ‘bomb’ at open-mics is uncomfortable, but seeing him get back up again in another club is inspiring.

That’s the word that best describes the documentary. The one thing that’s really nice about Waiting for the Punchline is how inspiring and uplifting it is. This is thanks, in part, to Nick Scarpino but also to Tony Sparks, a seasoned and gifted comedy club host. My favorite moment of the documentary, though, was seeing Scarpino give advice to a woman after her first attempt at stand-up comedy. It gives you a great idea of how nice the comedy community is in San Francisco.

What, on the other hand, is disappointing is that even though Mat Hames’ documentary makes note of the comedy scene in San Francisco, San Francisco as a city, the connection between martial arts and comedy, and much else, it sometimes feels more like the documentary is checking off a topic from a to-do list than the full, satisfying documentary that it could have been. Also, even though I enjoyed it, I’m not sure the section where Nick gets all of his friends on-stage belonged in this documentary, as I think it sidetracks it. What Hames wants to say with Scarpino’s journey as a comedian is interesting, but the documentary, as a whole, feels unfocused and much too short, and, in the end, the documentary doesn’t properly stick the landing exactly because of that.

In a way, because of all of this, it feels slightly incomplete, but, all the same, it still does achieve a lot of what it sets out to do. The target audience, i.e. fans of Rooster Teeth, Funhaus, or Kinda Funny, will be happy with what they see, as personable and entertaining online personalities get to test how good they are at getting a chuckle out of your average joe. As a fan of Kinda Funny and Nick Scarpino, I can say that I greatly enjoyed watching this documentary, even though I think the documentary’s somewhat wide scope warranted, at the very least, a larger runtime.

7 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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