Gregori Viens’s PUNCHING HENRY follows comedian-with-a-guitar, Henry Phillips as he reluctantly comes to Los Angeles to meet a big TV producer who wants to create a television series starring Phillips as himself, emphasizing the struggles of being a performer. With the support of his longtime musician friend, and his well-meaning manager, Henry deals with the hostile environment that Hollywood is for him. However, things seem to go from dubious to worse when a major TV network decides to pick up the show, since they seem less interested in his brand of humor versus just casting him as a pathetic clown to be made fun of.
Vienns’s PUNCHING HENRY could almost be described as a reboot of Phillips’s earlier film, PUNCHING THE CLOWN. Much like that film, this one can pretty evenly be divided in terms of time and focus, between Phillips (playing a version of himself) doing an interview on a radio show – this time speaking to a knowing, cynical host played by Sarah Silverman, and his experiences leading up to and resulting in the performances of his funny songs onstage. Phillips has the most specific and unique of performance styles and comedy voices, which has led to him having the most loyal and devoted, and frankly – deserved fan bases. However, it is also –by design – not the most accessible.
Phillips is not a slapstick, broad comedy guy. His humor reels you in and teases you into figuring out “where this is going” before he lowers the boom. Persona-wise, Phillips revels in the same. Soft-spoken, perpetually befuddled over the behavior – either lacking in reasonability or understanding or flat-out rude – of those around him, he moves like a mild-mannered bull in a china shop as he tries to accomplish the simplest of tasks. PUNCHING HENRY also employs a laundry list of famous and familiar names and faces (largely, and naturally, from the comedy world), from JK Simmons, Tig Notaro, Jim Jeffries, Mike Judge, Doug Stanhope, Clifton Collins Jr., Michaela Watkins, Mark Cohen, to Wayne Federman, and Derek Waters. Normally, this roll call of fame would be distracting, but here it works because Phillips’s entire world and thought process is built on distraction. And since we are talking about a VOD viewing choice, what can be more purely desired than entertainment that provides an entertaining distraction?