10 Films You Must See From the L.A. Comedy Shorts Festival
The Los Angeles Comedy Shorts Film Festival festival directors and producers, from left to right: Gary Anthony Williams, Kelly Frazier, Jeannie Roshar and Ryan Higman
This past weekend at the Downtown Independent was the fifth annual Los Angeles Comedy Shorts Film Festival, featuring ten film blocks of shorts. Topics (and interpretation of "short") varied in the films showcased at the film festival. One moment it's the German porn industry, the next, a guy in bed eating Chicken McNuggets. And I sat through over fifteen hours of it just so I can tell you which comedy shorts you should watch.
Here are our top ten picks from the festival:
Starring David Neher (the bit player Todd in Community) as Ernie and a yellow Post-It, this short follows the growing friendship between this lonely cubicle worker and his reliable pal who can always be counted on to remind him of what he has to do. Things turn for the worse when Ernie starts to set reminders on his iPhone, leading Post-It to go into a jealous rage. But when Ernie is mugged and forced to withdraw money from the ATM, his yellow-squared friend comes to help.
9. Talking Carl Talks Too Much
Written and directed by Justin Dec, this short got its start when Dec's friend told him about the annoying app Talking Carl, after the friend originally got it to entertain his son. Talking Carl is a voice-changing orange rectangle with a big mouth (and grating voice), and Dec feeds him lines that highlight an ADHD-like personality. Put him in a situation where someone is stuck with him -- a stakeout -- and you've got yourself a short that will either make you want to punch an inanimate object to shut it up...or randomly want to go out for Lunchables.
The same rules apply as rock, paper and scissors play a different kind of game -- the game of seduction. It stars Paper, an origami pickup artist, as he turns up the charm to snag Stephanie (an actual woman) from the clutches of Rock and into bed...only to look for a way out when Stephanie's boyfriend unexpectedly comes home. Snip snip.
7. Harry Grows Up
If watching one-year-olds running around by themselves isn't funny enough, it's seeing them go through the milestones of an adult relationship: dating, moving in together, marriage and a pseudo seven-year itch. Shot entirely in black and white and voice-overed by a very grown-up-sounding Harry, this short by Mark Nickelsburg, which won the Audience Award, takes us on a sweet and funny journey about being in love and showcases the city of New York.
6. The Mind Job
This short from JJ Winlove is a glimpse into a part of the male mind that no woman really wants to see: what the Australians call a "wank bank" (or "spank bank" for us Yanks). As witnesses to a crime, lovebirds Zac and Izzy have their memories unencrypted by futuristic technology to try and reveal the culprit. In the process, Izzy discovers what we all know to be true when Zac's stored memories are revealed: that all men are just horny bastards.
An Asian stereotype is realized in nine-year-old super nerd Paulie, multiple awards winner and future valedictorian, who obsessively tries to prove that Tony, the playground bully, cheated on his winning essay. Paulie's frustrations with adult naiveté and the Dewey Decimal System make for the bulk of the comedy.
4. Happy Birthday Mr. Zombie
Even though they're dead, zombies -- in amazingly rotting prosthetics and makeup -- celebrate Mr. Zombie's birthday in David Leclercq's perfectly gory short film. Conflict and hilarity arise when Mr. Zombie can't seem to blow out his one candle (well, finger). Apparently, breathing doesn't come easy when you don't have lungs. Guns, knives, dead animals -- all are used in hopes of extinguishing the flame but to no avail. But even after Mr. Zombie finally figures that one out, his birthday present provides another puzzle.
3. Penny Dreadful
Normally, sociopathic children give me the heebie-jeebies, but in this kidnapping-gone-wrong short, Shane Atkinson makes psychopathy terrifyingly humorous. An ex-janitor, in an effort to support his knocked-up girlfriend, agrees to take on a life of crime and unsurprisingly makes a mess of things when he nabs the wrong girl.
2. A First Date
Director Alex Weinress drew inspiration from his day job of making eHarmony commercials for this short about a romantically down-on-her luck woman in her thirties, Marie, whose online dating subscription is almost about to expire and goes on one more first date. All signs point to this being yet another failure: he balks at how many dates she's been on; the awkwardness meter is off the charts; and he admits his Internet crapped out before he could see her photo. Will the 313th time prove to be the charm? Or will love not begin here?
1. Timmy Muldoon and the Search for the Shadoweyes Bandit
With a charm reminiscent of Super 8 (except replace sci-fi with noir) comes Tony Yacenda's Timmy Muldoon and the Search for the Shadoweyes Bandit. As young cop Timmy seeks revenge for the death of his partner, slain by the elusive Shadoweyes Bandit, the caliber of the film transitions from the low-budget quality homemade movies to top-level cinematic magnificence (including appearances by Cuba Gooding Jr. and Jon Berthal).
A few more notes on the festival: Yacenda also won the film festival's first Breakthrough Award, presented by sponsor Break Media, meaning that he will be directing one of their upcoming videos or branded media. In addition, he and co-writer/co-founder, Dan Perrault, of Woodhead Entertainment (named after football player Danny Woodhead) are also hoping to shoot the first Woodhead Entertainment feature. Thankfully, it won't be the long version of their mock-trailer short, Average Party, which promotes a fake movie about a very underwhelming party.
And taking home the L.A. Comedy Shorts "Commie" Award were more widely recognized comedic writing duo, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele. We caught up with Peele to see what advice he had for aspiring comedic writers. Citing Steve Martin as his biggest comedic influence, Peele says, "[success] certainly didn't happen overnight. And I think one of the secrets for Key and I, because of that improv training, we're open to the collaborative process. And there is two of us. So that's easier than having to rely the whole weight on one person. Making our show is a dialogue instead of a dictatorship." And upon receiving the award with Key, he told the audience, "Keep on stopping while you are ahead," in reference to not dragging out a joke until it's no longer funny -- which is genuinely good advice that many comedy shorts writers should take to heart.
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