By Don Simpson | February 21, 2010
Director: Alex Karpovsky (documentary)
Starring: TJ Jagodowski, Dave Pasquesi
In his follow-up to the 2008 mockumentary Woodpecker (for which Trust Us, This Is All Made Up would have been an apt title), director/editor/producer Alex Karpovsky tracks T.J. Jagodowski and David Pasquesi as they relentlessly take in their surroundings, as if sponges in search of more liquid to saturate their beings.
Allow me to take one step back in case you do not know who Jagodowski and Pasquesi are…In some circles, they are respected masters of the long form improv comedy craft. Jagodowski (whom you will probably recognize from the Sonic Drive-In commercials) and Pasquesi are alumni of Chicago’s illustrious improv comedy Mecca – The Second City – as well as the Improv Olympic (currently known as iO). They have been performing together as “T.J. and Dave” in Chicago since 2002 (and monthly in New York City since 2006).
Even when they are side by side, we view Jagodowski and Pasquesi in split-screen – strengthening the fact that they are experiencing and engulfing their environment in their own way, separate yet together. Preparing for their purely improvised comedy routine – “T.J. and Dave” – Jagodowski and Pasquesi never discuss the content of their upcoming routine or any details regarding what their performance will entail. Their goal is to experience the world around them – sometimes together, sometime apart – and store up even the subtlest of nuances in the hope that something they witness during the day might be usable in their upcoming performance. One might imagine that this is similar to how Jerry Seinfeld preps for his comedy routines – but comparing the carefully manicured Seinfeld routine (which is pre-written) with the free-balling off-the-cuff technique of Jagodowski and Pasquesi is, as the saying goes, mere apples and oranges.
Apparently, this is all a set-up for what occurs 20 minutes into the documentary when we settle down at New York’s Barrow Street Theater for a performance of “T.J. and Dave” – it turns out that this is less of a documentary, and more of a concert film. The groundwork has been laid, now it is time to sit back and enjoy the performance. Luckily for all parties involved, Karpovsky happens upon a very strong show and an ideal representation of how flawlessly Jagodowski and Pasquesi work together.
Jagodowski and Pasquesi commence the performance slowly, as if crawling before they decide to start walking; carefully navigating the tone and content of the performance using an initial spattering of words to lead their path as the sketch unfolds from a verbal primordial ooze. Within a minute, the performance picks up steam only to occasionally pause for reevaluation during changes in characters and/or scenes. “T.J. and Dave” is not as much a comedy routine as it is a darkly existential discussion; the frenetic, yet flawless, back and forth banter garnering more laughs and cheers than overtly structured jokes.
It is extremely entertaining and illuminating to spend 20 minutes with Jagodowski and Pasquesi as we witness their “preparation” for a “T.J. and Dave” performance, and the “T.J. and Dave” show itself is wonderful. But thinking of Trust Us, This Is All Made Up as a film…well, it seems to be lacking something that would qualify it as “cinematic.” The first 20 minutes feel like a documentary (hence that section feels cinematic), but the remaining 60 minutes feel like an excuse to capture a “T.J. and Dave” performance and screen it in movie theaters – which unfortunately goes against everything that Jagodowski and Pasquesi’s world of improvisation is about.
With every one of their “T.J. and Dave” performances being so completely different – Jagodowski and Pasquesi never attempt to rehash old material – it seems odd to have this permanent record of one performance. The film’s audience knows that this is not live, so the joys of witnessing an improvised performance – such as the spontaneity and haphazardness – are all but drained away. Trust Us, This Is All Made Up could have worked better as a film if various short sketches (preferably from different “T.J. and Dave” performances) were interspersed throughout the documentary footage, thus allowing the two parts of the film to be intertwined. The resulting film could have then worked as a promotional tool for the “T.J. and Dave” show – enticing people to travel to Chicago or New York City to witness one of their 60 minute performances live and in its entirety, the way Jagodowski and Pasquesi’s performance is meant to be seen.
Nonetheless, the performance that Karpovsky captures on Trust Us, This Is All Made Up is reason enough to see this film.
Trust Us, This Is All Made Up was released on DVD via b-side as of February 16, 2010.