There’s been a fair few films about the life of a stand up comic but very few of them accurately capture exactly what it’s like, how difficult it can be when you first start out, and the slings and arrows of the stand up scene. So All Joking Aside deserves a great deal of kudos for managing to do this, all the while telling a very human story with sometimes flawed but likeable characters.
It begins with the first ever performance by a new stand up called Charlie (Raylene Harewood) but before she really even gets the chance to perform she’s heckled by a pretty mean bastard called Bob (Brian Markinson), to the extent that she leaves the stage without finishing her set. But after meeting him a couple more times she learns that he used to be a stand up himself, and isn’t a complete shit in real life, and so persuades him to mentor her. An odd couple without the romantic element kind of film then ensues, as Bob teaches all the rules of stand up, helping Charlie to find her voice, what is it that she can say that nobody else can, along with everything you should never, ever do. To flesh things out a little there’s also glimpses in to their personal lives, and though these add depth to the duo they never outstay their welcome and the main thrust of the film is all about the insanity of the stand up world.
It captures the discomfort of starting out in stand up impressively well, and it feels authentic and very believable, and as well as this it has a real understanding of comedy itself, which is no mean feat. It’s a rare example of a film which really captures what it’s like to perform in a comedy club to a small, often disinterested audience, alongside the difficulties women face in the industry and it doesn’t shy away from just how shitty other male stand up’s can be. The growing friendship between Charlie and Bob is engaging to watch as well, they have an endearing platonic chemistry, which is a real boon to the film, and not everything is wrapped up nicely in their lives as it would be in a Hollywood movie. If you wanted to be picky it could be suggested that Charlie goes from newbie to a seasoned pro a little too quickly as everything’s supposed to happen in a fairly short amount of time leading up to a competition that Bob has entered her in to, and certain aspects of what it can be like to be a stand up aren’t covered, like how after a shaky beginning Charlie never bombs on stage, but as a whole it’s an insightful, thoughtful and very intelligent take on the life.
Tightly directed by Shannon Kohli (who was responsible for some of the best episodes of the greatly missed The Magicians tv series including season 4’s superb musical episode), Raylene Harewood impressively carries off the transition from newbie to a confident, believable stand up, Brian Markinson is equally good as the grizzled has-been, and the rest of the supporting cast are very strong too. It’s a smart, funny film that has a lot to say about comedy but does so in a non-patronising, very engaging manner, and is a must see for both those interested in performing and those who are happy to be just part of the audience.