In the interest of full disclosure, as a frequent film festival go-er and sometimes participant and winner, the idea of being in a room of comedians watching their on-camera attempt at trying to out-joke each other in 15 minutes or less really didnʼt float my boat. A Comedy Shorts Festival? What could I see in a three-day unabashed onslaught of funny that I couldnʼt hash tag in the privacy of my own MacBook Pro? Besides, the idea of a festival of comedy shorts is so 10 years ago. It sounds as if it was conceived by folks who, like my grandmother, refer to their home computer as THE MACHINE. Oh how wrong I was.
Not only was the LA Comedy Shorts Festival entertaining, but it was, by far, one of the best festivals I have ever had the pleasure to attend. Since starring as the first digital character in the first digitally shot and digitally projected movie ever, the term “shoot it digital” has been, to me, as rare as tube-shaped meat.
However, the digital film format has found a very viable and comfortable home on the Internet. Short, fast, and funny content captured quick and cheap seems to thrive as the screens get smaller and smaller. Yet the ratio from cost to comedy has yet to translate to a bigger screen. With the success of the LA Comedy Shorts Festival, the small screen genius has found its big-screen soul mate, and I do believe this one is gonna go the distance.
Whenever Iʼm invited to anything social in this den of excitement called Hollywood, I usually look for two things: first a drink, then a friendly face. I got both as soon as I walked in the door. The friendly face was Mr. Gary Anthony Williams. After the customary exchange of black-man handshake and colloquial comforting words of our people, I asked him if this was his first time here. He informed me of his position as Artistic Director. This brought about an extreme change in my otherwise very east coast cynicism.
Gary and I had worked together several times. I know him to be an incredible talent and an amazingly intelligent, down-to-earth gentleman. Needless to say, if heʼs the Artistic Director, this thing is going to be good. He then introduced me to his partners in festival: Jeannie Roshar, Festival Director, and Ryan Higman, Festival Producer. They offered a threesome of assurance that I was in for a night of hilarity. This assurance also came with a glass of Revel Stoke spiced whisky and, as we all know, free booze makes the night look pretty.
The thing that a comedy shorts festival has going for it is that all the movies get to the point in good time, and comedy brings out the folks. If youʼre an actor of any kind, you always want to be in something funny. This first night of the festival was just that. The movies ranged from the star-studded high production value of Funny Or Die-produced Grandpires--starring Billy Crystal, Helen Mirren, and Rob Reiner--to the riff on a Yo Momma contest called Youʼre So Hot (my personal fav), starring Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Dave Franco. Scott Thompson, one of the framers of what is now called alternative comedy, frankly needs his own category. His film about his fluctuating “4 Pounds” is done with such brilliance that it can only be defined as Scott Thompson-esque. Michael Ceraʼs deadpan humor kills in Bad Dads. Tim Daly as the self-deprecating aging actor in DILF was an amazing surprise to see. Who knew he could be so funny? And how did they get Tim Daly? Rex Lee as Kim Jong Ill in The Adoption Agency and the best realized short of the night, Turning Japanese featuring Brian Austin Green, both had high concept value as well as great jokes. This is just day one.
The next two days were just as impressive. Films that were celebrity-driven--such as Anthony Anderson and Jenna Elfman in the Atom.com film Matumbo Goldberg, to Donnell Rawlings’s comically biographical Ashy to Classy--played just as seamlessly with shorts done by filmmakers with no celebrity cache and no live actors.
Yes, there was animation as well. Dates on Tape (winner of the Best Animated Short Award), Weisberg Is Growing Bald, Ninja Sex Party, Hip, Undocumented Worker, and Bear Force One (the Festival winner) are all films that starred the soon-to-be ubiquitous filmmakers themselves and rendered thecomedy playing field level.
The talent pool of filmmakers is just part of the brilliance that is this festival. For all those whoʼve never participated in a film festival, the big #winning for anyone who subjects themselves to this type of contest is distribution. At most festivals, some filmmakers walk away with deals. Some just walk away happy they were there. This festival is tailor-made for everyone to be distributed. Of course, the festival winners get deals with Atom.com or Funny or Die (check out the festival winners), but because short, fast and funny makes the Internet go round, every film in this festival can be put somewhere. The careful selection of films by the crack team at LA Comedy Shorts Festival gives each a credentialed stamp of approval. Distribution done. I canʼt think of any other festival where everybody wins.
The festival circuit is one that has slowly been fading. Itʼs easier to be selected as the next “Real Housewife of the Rings of Saturn” than it is to get in to the more popular ones, and the obscure ones are becoming more disorganized as popularity fades. The LA Comedy Shorts Festival runs like a well-oiled machine (shout to the crew behind the scenes, especially new friends Snehal, Criss Ann, Carol, and Stephanie). Itʼs diplomatic yet discerning in its acceptance, practical in its business model, and socially viable in this ever-expanding medium we call entertainment. If your work gets seen at this festival, your work gets seen. I recommend everyone jump on board now. Itʼs only going to get bigger and better.
Photography by Brian C. Janes