The Amazing Johnathan is a prop comic and, honestly, probably one of the best in the world. I grew up watching this guy and always laughed at the things he did on stage and then, one day, he did a TED Talk and revealed that he had one year to live due to heart disease.
That was about five years ago and the guy is still kicking. Was it all part of an Andy Kaufman-level prank to fake an illness? Did he miraculously survive against the odds? What was the deal with all of that?
Ultimately, that doesn’t matter because this isn’t really a documentary about The Amazing Johnathan, but rather a documentary about making a documentary about The Amazing Johnathan.
You see, filmmaker Ben Berman is the man behind the camera and we go on a journey with him as the seemingly simple task of making a documentary about a dying comedian becomes more and more difficult and forces him to question his own ethics. The Amazing Johnathan complicates the matter by being a basic scumbag (I know the guy thought he was dying, but he treats everyone in his circle like garbage) and contracting several other documentary makers to follow him around. He does copious amounts of illegal drugs and pushes himself to a seemingly early grave by insisting on going on a farewell tour.
I’m going to say this right now… this documentary has really skewed my opinion of The Amazing Johnathan to the negative. I’m not sure if it was the purpose of this documentary to paint Johnathan has such a manipulative and selfish narcissist, but that was my impression. Again, I know that the guy thought that he was dying, but his behavior seems to go beyond the pale on several occasions.
This is a fascinating documentary, engaging and enraging and, to be honest, I was more interested in the events that this movie covered than when it actually covered Johnathan’s story. It’s a moral gray area of creators being manipulated, questioning their ethics, and wondering why they do what they do and why they continue doing it when all signs seem to point to it’s time to bail out.
And then there is the question of how much of this documentary was real and how much wasn’t. The Amazing Johnathan Documentary never really says that parts were staged, but there’s always that lingering suspicion that some of it might be an elaborate gag played on the audience.
Whether it’s a work of non-fiction or fiction, the movie does tell a fascinating story and ask some questions that could start a debate at any table.