It’s somewhat of a cruel irony that the funniest clowns among us are also some of the saddest souls on earth. Some of the most side-splitting comedic material comes from the deepest depths of pain,misery and despair. Most of us average audience members aren’t privy to the real-life inspiration that spawns a stand-up comedian’s set, but Roy Tighe’s insightful new doc Never Be Donegrants us an intimate look at the rise and fall of one of Vancouver’s most legendary and controversial stand-up comics, Richard Lett.
We open way back in the fall of 2009 where the man himself is giving a profanity-laced slam poetry performance on the rainy streets of downtown Vancouver to a small but enraptured audience. We soon find out that he was just ejected from the Kingston Taphouse and Grill where he had initially been scheduled to perform before getting into a verbal altercation with the manager and promptly banned from the premises until further notice. It turns out that his outrageous material (one of his sets includes the incredibly in-poor0-aste song “Ballad of Bobby Pickton) along with increasingly rude and callous behaviour (he’s not shy about throwing around the word “fag”) has seen him banned from nearly every venue in the Vancouver area.
His lack of income, battles with alcoholism and alienation from his friends soon send him on a downward spiral that sees him unceremoniously evicted from his apartment and forced to live out of his car. He soon flees from the filmmakers driving “7000km” according to one phone call with the director. After having narrowly avoided suicide, Richard eventually resurfaces at the Kinghaven treatment centre where he commits to turning his life around for his teenage daughter Brianna’s sake as well as his own. All of this will eventually form the basis of a one-man show entitled Sober, But Never Cleanwhich he will take on tour years later.
“There’s not a lot of people anymore who’ll say that a person’s plusses are worth their minuses” says Yuk Yuks founder Mark Bresslin, one of the many talking heads who provide context for the force of nature that is Richard Lett. Even at his most angry and bitter, the man is a compelling real-life character. In an age where political correctness has tightened it’s grip even further since when the doc first started filming, you can’t help but root for Lett’s edgy material even when it leaves you cringing. This allows for empathy at even his darkest moments where he falls out with friends, fights with his landlord and snaps at the crew filming it all.
It is evident however, that the doc could have used some more context in it’s setup. Director Roy Tighe does appear intermittently including a crucial phone call scene where Richard reveals that he is alright post-runaway, but we’re never quite privy to who he is, what his relationship with Richard is or even why he was filming the comic in the first place. The audience really shouldn’t have to read a press skit or attend a Q&A for this info,
Regardless, what began as a planned taping of a one-man show has blossomed into a truly moving story of one man’s decent into chaos and his subsequent return to the light. It manages to be a sobering drama as well as an amusing ride in its scant 80 minute runtime which just might be the greatest joke Richard Lett ever pulled.
Never Be Done will screen as part of the JFL Film festival at Vancity Theatre on Feb 20, 7:30pm