Review by Sean Boelman
Although the advent of television brought along with it some of the most legendary and iconic comedic talents of the 20th century, there are still some that didn’t quite make that leap to public notoriety. Dan Wingate’s documentary Kaye Ballard - The Show Goes On! offers an account of the life and career of one such star that deserves more attention than she got.
Having started her career as a musical comedy performer, Kaye Ballard made a name for herself as a vaudeville performer before eventually getting opportunities on Broadway and in television. Perhaps the most interesting part of Ballard’s story is not her own accomplishments, but what she witnessed from her peers, many of whom are more famous themselves.
That said, the film does make an excellent argument as to why Ballard was one of the most underappreciated talents in comedy. Although it is true that few viewers may be familiar with Ballard’s work (apart from her leading role on the short-lived NBC sitcom The Mothers-In-Law), Wingate’s documentary will make viewers want to seek her performances out.
Apart from that, the movie doesn’t offer a whole lot, especially since a majority of the film’s audience won’t have that nostalgia. Ultimately, this is a love letter to a star who didn’t receive her due, but that leaves the question of whether or not anyone is going to care enough to watch this documentary in the first place.
Admittedly, this movie is much more extensive than most biographies, but what is the purpose of thoroughness when a superficial survey of her achievements would have been much more compelling or interesting. Granted, it’s nice to hear Ballard’s story in her own words (she passed away in 2019, about two years after this was filmed), but this just isn’t enough.
The use of interviews with Ballard’s contemporaries is rather questionable as well. More often than not, they are simply showering praise on Ballard as opposed to providing legitimate insight into her work or artistry. And some of the people selected to speak in the film, including a particular disgraced comedian-turned-filmmaker, should and could have been cut.
Without a doubt, the best part of this documentary is getting to see rare archive footage of Ballard’s performances, but Wingate uses this as more of a supplement than a means of storytelling in and of itself. As a result, the movie ends up feeling like a bunch of filler in between some interesting segments.
Kaye Ballard - The Show Goes On! is a fittingly schmaltzy documentary, but even those who are obsessed with old-school showbusiness may find themselves uninterested. Still, even if it only reminds the public of Ballard’s name, it accomplishes its goal.
Kaye Ballard - The Show Goes On! screens online in partnership with indie theaters beginning July 17. A list of participating locations can be found here.