For the who’s-who of alternative comedy (Sarah Silverman, H. Jon Benjamin, Andy Dick, Sam Seder, Marc Maron, Todd Barry, David Cross, Kathy Griffin, Andy Kindler) that makes up its cast, the scruffy, improvised 1997 mockumentary Who’s The Caboose? is the cinematic equivalent of a high school yearbook, chronicling how green, fresh-faced, and bursting with enthusiasm they looked back in the day. As a sociological document capturing future cult heroes and superstars at embryonic stages of their careers, it has a value to comedy geeks disproportionate to its tiny budget and modest ambitions.

Writer/director/star Sam Seder draws heavily from the Big Book Of Show-Business Plots for his tale of a young comedian (Silverman) who’s flown out to Los Angeles for pilot season and becomes the subject of a documentary by a jaded film crew that set out to make a film about a plague afflicting the homeless, but got sidetracked by a more glamorous, less depressing story. Seder co-stars as Silverman’s boyfriend, a neurotic New York writer and performer who undergoes a remarkable transformation into an obnoxious show-business phony at the behest of an entertainment lawyer (H. Jon Benjamin) who isn’t about to let anything as trivial as his complete ignorance of Seder’s work keep him from making Seder one of the most buzzed-about properties in television.

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It’s A Star Is Born by way of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” as Seder first usurps Silverman’s place in the show-business hierarchy, then watches his own star fall once it becomes apparent that his heat is built on a slippery foundation of hot air, big talk, and lies. Who’s The Caboose? takes aim at all the usual suspects—backstabbing actors, glad-handing agents, lawyers and managers, cowardly executives, desperate hangers-on—but has an overachieving cast adept at breathing new life into hoary show-business caricatures. Standout Benjamin, for example, makes his wheeler-dealer simultaneously seductive and sleazy; he epitomizes much of what makes the entertainment industry both irresistible and repellent, and the narrative takes some intriguing left turns, as when a deliveryman essentially hijacks the faux-documentary and becomes its ascot-wearing narrator. Seder’s endearingly ramshackle directorial debut gets by almost exclusively on the strength of its cast: it feels like a student film whose cast has all deservedly gone on to bigger and better things.

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