ALL JOKING ASIDE is available November 13 On Demand from Quiver Distribution.

Reviewed by Thyronne Millaud: Raylene Harewood plays Charlene Murray, an aspiring standup comedian, in Shannon Kohli’s feature film debut “All Joking Aside”.  The film opens with Charlie’s first attempt at standup in a small New York comedy club. She is quickly heckled off the stage by a middle-aged, bitter barfly who is then kicked out by the bartender who seems to know the heckler quite well. Despite her disastrous first performance, Charlie like many aspiring artists knows she has to keep going.

Raylene Harewood/All Joking Aside

The next morning she meets her best friend at a diner, to talk about the disappointment of her first show.  There she has a chance encounter with the very same heckler who ends up sticking her with his bill.  She asks the bartender Dennis (Richard Lett) who runs the comedy club about the man who heckled her.

Richard Lett and Brian Markison/All Joking Aside

He tells her the man is Bob Carpenter(played by Brian Markison), a legendary has-been comedian who blew up his career on the verge of national fame and shows her a videotape of Bob’s act, telling her how amazing he was. He also shows her the night he threw it all away when he physically attacked someone in the audience. Charlene quickly recognizes Bob’s comedic skills and with Dennis’s encouragement, she decides he will be her mentor, and naturally, Bob is resistant to that idea, at first.

Brian Markison and Raylene Harewood/ All Joking Aside

Brian Markison plays Bob with just the right amount of cantankerous anger and regret. A broken man crushed by life dreams fearful of taking his life back. Raylene Harewood brings a delicate to her role balancing life’s issues while pursuing one’s passion.

I enjoyed the film, it grabbed me from the get-go and I was curious to see where it would lead me despite it’s rather familiar, almost cliche plotting. The chemistry between Harewood and Brian Markinson, who plays Bob Carpenter, was easy and believable. As were the performances of the supporting cast. The directing and the screenplay by James Pickering is tight and efficient. If I was forced to find a flaw with this film, I would mention, while at the same time arguing that it not necessarily a flaw, the film leans to the lighter side. The comedy could have leaned towards edgier material but the characters did have high emotional stakes allowing us to want the best for them.

 Charlie wants to be edgy, but there is nothing edgy about her or her material. In fact, the comedy is almost throw away, it’s more a minor prop than anything else. Apart from a couple of dick jokes, All Kidding Aside almost feels like a Hallmark movie. It scratches the surface of some dark themes like infidelity, death, cancer, alcoholism, misogyny, and failure, but never scrapes deep enough to feel dangerous or the least bit ‘iffy’. Even the look and location of the film gave me this feeling. It’s supposed to be set in the gritty New York comedy scene but it really feels like some quaint town in Canada.

Though this seems incongruous after the fact, it really didn’t occur to me while watching the film. I also realized after watching, I really didn’t like Charlie as a comedian. I liked her better and thought she was funnier off stage. Which is fine, after all, this film isn’t really about comedy or comedians, this film is only set in the up and coming comedy scene, it’s really a story about two damaged people from different places and generations coming to gather to help each other grow and in the process learn how to grow themselves. In telling that story, the film is very successful and enjoyable.

Brian Markinson (“Angels in America”), Tanya Jade and celebrated comedian Richard Lett co-star in a Shannon Kohli (“You”, “Riverdale”)  film, scripted by James Pickering.  Produced by Jon Ornoy.

Director’s Statement

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 traveling 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.

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