Tag Archives: stand up comedy

Sit Down

All Joking Aside

by Rachel Willis

All Joking Aside is an appropriate title for director Shannon Kohli’s first feature. Because it seems writer Brian Pickering left out most of the jokes from a film centering around a woman who dreams of becoming a stand-up comic.

Charlene (Raylene Harewood) has her work cut out for her if she wants to be a comedian. Heckled off the stage at her first open-mic night, she then decides to seek out the man who heckled her, a former comedian named Bob (Brian Markinson), to get his advice on how to achieve her dream.

It’s a bit of a stretch, even if there are a few pieces involved to get these two together. Bob is a cynical, down-on-his-luck alcoholic. Charlene is a broke young woman who sleeps on the floor of her apartment. You can see where this story is going; the curmudgeon and the promising young talent’s relationship is telegraphed from the start.

Added into the mix are several clichéd elements: cancer, an estranged mom, a dead father who also dreamed of being a comedian, an estranged wife and child. Pickering piles on the misery, but it doesn’t add much to the overall story. The film would have been better served by closer attention to the jokes peppered throughout. Or on building a more believable, or even a more unexpected, relationship between Bob and Charlene.

There are a couple of funny moments, some of Charlene’s jokes provide a minor chuckle. But much of the dialogue is delivered like a training video: Comedy 101. Or worse, if there was a retail store for comedy, this is the video they’d show you on your first day.

Markinson is the film’s highlight, which is disappointing since this should be Raylene Harewood’s show. But even he seems to be phoning in his lines and resembling a poor man’s Marc Maron. Not a bad actor to emulate, but Markinson lacks Maron’s acerbic charms. And Harewood just can’t muster the pluck to make the audience root for her.

This isn’t entirely the fault of the actors, as the film splits its focus across too many elements. Predictability may help to pull ideas together, but it does nothing to create a satisfying comedy.

Don’t Cry, Sad Clown

Misery Loves Comedy

by Hope Madden

Is every clown really a sad clown? In his debut as a documentarian, actor Kevin Pollak seeks to find the answer to that question by asking it (or variations of it) to 50 or so of the brightest comic minds of the day.

Who? Tom Hanks, Amy Schumer, Martin Short, Jimmy Fallon, Janeane Garofalo, Judd Apatow and dozens of other stand-up comics and comedic writers and performers. What Pollak wants in return is a glimpse into the shared psyche of the funnyman.

Who were their influences? When did they realize they were funny? What’s it like to bomb onstage? To kill? They’re interesting enough questions and sometimes the answers are fun to watch, but the sheer volume of responses almost requires that the film remain superficial.

His doc would have benefitted had Pollak narrowed down the interviewees, perhaps focusing solely on stand-up comics. We also hear from film directors, sit-com actors and one radio morning show. The breadth only draws attention to the lack of depth.

And yet, there are ways in which the cast feels very narrow. The group is – whether inadvertently or not – pretty white and male. Pollak may simply have raided his own personal phone book, calling in favors from friends for the film, but the result is breathtakingly one sided. He talks with 5 or 6 women, one of whom (Whoopi Goldberg) is not white. He also talks to one male (Kumail Nanjani) who isn’t white.

So, 40+ white guys tell us about the context of being funny. Presumably this is not because of some deeply held belief of Pollak’s, but that doesn’t excuse it. Forget that whatever thesis he may be trying to put forward is irredeemably skewed by this, the fact that anyone could direct a documentary about stand-up comedy without including the point of view of one African American male – no Chris Rock, Eddie Murphy, Kevin Hart, Dave Chappelle, Tracy Morgan – is astonishing.

Plus, honestly, the film itself is almost never actually funny. He talks to fifty funny people about being funny yet catches almost no comedy on film. What?

In the end the film is dedicated to the memory of Robin Williams, and I’m sure Pollak’s heart was in the right place. It’s just that nothing else was.