all joking aside
CHARLENE MURRAY (Charlie to her friends) isn’t your average twenty-one year old. Inspired by her late father’s unrealized ambitions, she wants nothing more in life than to be a stand-up comic, and is equal parts thrilled and terrified by the fact that she’s finally old enough to get into a comedy club and actually try her material in front of paying customers. So with a fistful of jokes, and her stalwart friend KIM there to get her back, she heads to the LAUGHING HYENA, one of New York’s faded comedic hot spots, to hit her first ever open mic night. Glued to his barstool at the back of the room, with his fourth whiskey of the night in hand is BOB CARPENTER, and he’s not going to stop heckling until Charlie gives up the microphone. It doesn’t take long before he gets exactly what he wants, and Charlie, chastened, flees the club with Kim on her tail.
When she later returns to the Hyena to talk to the manager DENNIS, he tells Charlie that if she really wants to learn the craft, then she’s got to be writing all the time, and studying people who know what they’re doing; people like Bob who, before his marriage and career collapsed and he became an alcoholic heckler, used to be one of the top touring comics in the country. He pulls out some old VHS tapes of the young and energetic performer, first showing him own the crowd with his raw, edgy material, and then in a different clip from his final performance a few years later, literally attacking them. Impressed by this new side of him, and with Dennis’ encouragement, Charlie decides that Bob is going to be her mentor whether he likes it or not, and sets about winning him over. As the two slowly feel each other out, what develops is an unlikely friendship based on broken families, a healthy appreciation of sarcasm, and the undeniable rush of making a whole room full of people laugh.
There are certain jobs on film sets that have traditionally been crewed by men and others that are usually filled by women, and it was very clear from my first days working in the lighting and camera departments that I was always going to be in the conspicuous minority in a world where nudie magazines on the camera truck are still sometimes a fact of life. But as much as there were men who stood in my way, it was also the confidence and guidance of one DP, an older guy who was initially quite skeptical of me, that ultimately gave me my first gig as an “A” camera operator, and paved the road that I’m travelling on right now. From this perspective, I think that there’s something really appropriate about taking All Joking Aside on as my first feature, because I’ve got all of these experiences from my own recent past to mine for inspiration, allowing me to bring a very personal touch to my interpretation of the material.
The other thing that immediately grabbed me when reading the script was that it was going to afford me the ability to do a deep dive into the world of stand-up comedy, and engage with it not just as a passive audience member. I have fond memories of staying up late as a kid, long after my parents thought I was asleep, listening to a Sunday night radio show that featured the work of comics like Lily Tomlin, George Carlin, and Bob Newhart. Laughter is one of the most unique bonding experiences that we have as humans, and being a part of the communal experience of an entire roomful of people laughing as one, is truly therapeutic. However, what I’m most interested in exploring is the fact that so often the laughs that are being generated, come at the expense of some kind of real pain or trauma that the comedian has suffered through, but managed to overcome and now find the latent humour that was initially hidden behind the tears.
While more and more funny women are breaking through and establishing a presence in popular culture, it’s a trend that needs to be supported and I really hope that this film can play a part in that.