All Joking Aside

Brian Markinson and Raylene Harewood in All Joking Aside (2020)

Sometimes you turn on a movie and, in the first 10 minutes, you just know how you feel about it. The tone has been set, the pacing established, and the characters are already starting to take shape. Sometimes you turn that movie off, knowing that it is already a lost cause, and sometimes you decide to stick with it because you’re on the fence. With All Joking Aside, I knew within 10 minutes that I was in love. I knew that the writer (James Pickering) had written each word with care and thoughtfulness, developed each character with an attention to detail, and crafted each moment to leave a lasting impression. I could see that the director (Shannon Kohli) had a clear vision, a strong understanding of where she wanted to go, and an eye for the scene that made it hard to believe this was her first feature film. It was also obvious that our film’s leads Charlie (Raylene Harewood) and Bob (Brian Markinson) are talented beyond belief, dedicated to their craft, and absolute geniuses when it comes to delivering their lines. If it sounds like I’m gushing… it’s because I am. Within those first 10 minutes, I knew that I was watching something magical. In fact, my only concern 10 minutes in was that I only had 70 minutes of film left to enjoy.

All Joking Aside lands solidly in my top three films of 2020. I used to think I had to order them… but they are all of a different genre, so I think it’s safe. Archive is easily my top Sci-Fi film of the year and Last Call is king of the drama, but now I get to add a favourite comedy of the year, All Joking Aside easily slides into that position. The movie has non-stop energy. It is a heartwarming masterpiece that shares a lot with this year’s The Opening Act and, one of my favourite movies from just over a decade ago, Funny People.

So, what is the film about? Charlie (Harewood) is an aspiring comedian with a grocery store job and a strained family relationship. When she finally works up the courage to go on stage, she is heckled off by Bob Carpenter (Markinson), a former comedian with a very negative outlook on life. Charlie decides that Bob is going to help her become a comedian and will stop at nothing to convince him of that. While the story might be a little cliché – grumpy old man helps passionate young woman achieve her goals while discovering he might actually be a nice guy – it was interspersed with so much comedy and compassion that it felt very believable. Despite looking different, the two have many similarities and they are both on their own journeys, unknowingly helping with more than just a simple comedy act. They both have lousy familial ties and they both have pasts that impact their present day, but they also both have best friends helping them see a path forward and supporting them along the way. Kudos to Tanya Jade as Kim and Richard Lett as Dennis, both of them were amazing at supporting the film’s leads and establishing their own characters.

As someone who dreams of one day being on a comedy club stage, the movie spoke to me more than it may other viewers, but regardless of your relationship with comedy, I think you’ll love this flick. Whether you enjoy the bond between Charlie and Bob, the non-stop jokes that are actually funny, or the journey that Charlie takes… you’ll find that you’re just happy to be along for the ride.  It is really impressive how well this came together given that it is Pickering’s first feature script, Kohli’s first feature film, and Harewood’s first leading role in a film.

For me, one of the key aspects of the film was the way that the comedy constantly tied back to one of Bob’s lessons about making it personal and drawing on your experiences. The jokes kept me laughing and they were always grounded in the characters’ experiences and none of those experiences seemed forced or out of place, they just came together to give us a perfect film moment.

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.

Shannon Kohli, director

I tried to think of something negative to say, but other than wanting more, I can’t think of anything. I was actually sad when the movie ended, I would have paid for more of this experience. So, do yourself a favour… make a bowl of popcorn, grab your adult beverage of choice, and rent this movie. You won’t be disappointed.

All Joking Aside will be released On Demand on November 13.

All Joking Aside

Movie title: All Joking Aside

Movie description: In Animal Mother Films’ 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.

Date published: 2020-11-13

Director(s): Shannon Kohli

Actor(s): Raylene Harewood, Brian Markinson, Richard Lett, Tanya Jade

Genre: Comedy

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