Laugh Sabbath is a forward-thinking, daring and experimental comedy collective based in Toronto. With a weekly comedy series at Comedy Bar featuring regulars like Kathleen Philips, Chris Locke, Tom Henry and David Dineen-Porter, they are setting a gold standard for comedy in Toronto comedy. In keeping with their mission to spread hilarity, Laugh Sabbath’s next great step forward is to put on a short film festival. Last week, I asked organizers Ashley Gray and Rebecca Raftus all about it.
[This piece was originally published in March 2013, before the event was announced as part of NXNE]
Please tell me more about this short film festival!
Rebecca: The festival is set up to give comedians and funny filmmakers the chance to screen their work on a larger scale and get the recognition they deserve! There will be cash prizes to the winning films which will be judged by cool and exciting industry professionals. It’s going to be the best!
Ashley: Yeah! The idea for the fest came about as a result of us realizing all our video nights were a success and that there wasn’t a place to celebrate these vids outside of Laugh Sabbath.
There’s an interesting stigma attached to Laugh Sabbath that we can be a bit exclusive but that is not true. We’re excited about getting videos from people who we may not have seen before!
The last few years Chris Locke had done a curated night with the CFC that screened Laugh Sabbath videos which was so great but this year they weren’t doing it. We still wanted to be able to show the public these types of videos and then in addition give back through prizes. Laugh Sabbath wouldn’t exist without all the amazing content we get from comedians in the city and elsewhere. It’s time we gave back.
Whose films are we going to see? How short are they? How long is the festival?
Rebecca: We don’t know which films we will see yet. We’re taking submissions from all over the US and Canada so we’re hoping to have a wide range of really great shorts to showcase. We’ll know more after our submission deadline closes on April 1st. We’re accepting comedy shorts that are ten minutes and under preferably but we reserve the right to accept something that is over if it really catches our eye.
Ashley: We still need to screen submissions but you’ll see shorts from Laugh Sabbath producers, local comedians and filmmakers from across Canada and the US. We decided to keep it open to the US because we have a lot of talented friends down there. The US has been responsible for helping to make many of our friends even more successful in their field!
The fest is one day. We weren’t sure at first how many submissions we’d get so we thought we’d keep it simple and if it’s as big of a success as we hope then next year we’ll try to extend it.
You say the films you want to screen are “experimental and often made with low to no budget”- are there some good examples of this kind of thing?
Rebecca: I’d say a good example would be “Bridge’s’ New Jacket” by Brian Barlow. He filmed it last summer and funded it from an Indiegogo campaign. He shot it, directed it, starred in and edited it himself. It features some of the most talented comedians in the city including Tim Gilbert and Kathleen Phillips and it’s incredible.
Everything David Dineen-Porter puts on film is wonderfully funny, if you haven’t seen L’Brondelle’s Universe, you need to stop what you’re doing and google it right now!
Star Tales by James Hartnett, Aaron Eves and Adam & Dave is a hilarious series of shorts you can find on Funny or Die. I also love what Becky Johnson and Kayla Lorette have been making together with Allison Johnston. Their short “Kids and Crowns” is one of my all time favorites.
Ashley: All you’d have to do is look at anything made by Tim Gilbert, Chris Locke, Kathleen Philips, Katie Crown, Adam & Dave, James Hartnett, Fun Time Internet, Sara Hennessey etc.. People who experiment with editing, lighting, audio for the sole purpose of a joke. I think some of the most experimental videos I’ve seen are Fight Club 2 by Chris Locke and Aaron Eves, Hats by Tim Gilbert and Nathan Fielder’s video of an electrical outlet screaming “noooo”
Do you feel like there’s a vacuum, where this kind of short film exists and has some audience, but needs to connect with other short films and audiences? Why hasn’t that happened yet?
Rebecca: There’s definitely a vacuum where this kind of short film exists but it’s difficult for the right audience to find it because there are so few places for comedy shorts to live. It’s hard to weed out the good from the not so good because there’s just so much content that it can be overwhelming. Websites like Youtube, Funny or Die and College Humor have days worth of comedy shorts to watch, and usually the videos with the biggest budgets (or biggest stars!) seem to get the most attention.
It hasn’t happened yet because the internet has turned into the place where you can get an immediate reaction, so that’s where most comedy shorts are sent. But there are so many people trying to make the next viral video, and that means films that actually have clever content often get lost in the shuffle.
Unfortunately, not everyone is lucky enough to be discovered by simply uploading their short online. It seems like most comedy shorts are being produced with little to no budget, so usually any money goes towards equipment and that leaves little to nothing set aside for promotion. Then it’s just a matter of getting your friends and family to share it on Facebook and Twiiter, or show it at a live show for 40 or so lucky audience members and sometimes that’s as far as it goes.
Ashley: The CFC has attempted to include lots of comedy in their short film fest but there seems to be more focus on the shorts that have the biggest stars as Becca said. I remember the cover of Eye Weekly a few years ago having like James Franco or Meryl Streep on it during the World of Shorts instead of great Canadian talent. The tiny article about the Alternative Comedy night was hidden inside. It’s easier for people to spend their money on something that is right in their face and doesn’t seem risky. [So] we decided to create our own home for comedy shorts that doesn’t include glitz and glam but is about great and interesting content. Surely if Youtube videos of people planking or doing the Harlem Shake can gain ground then something of substance can spread the same way. Or maybe I’m naive!
Experimental no-budget films are really exciting, and a lot of the most experimental film and video for the past few years has been from the world of comedy- Why is comedy a better place to make experimental art right now?
Rebecca: Comedy is a better place to make experimental art right now because it is more universal and relateable. I think that everyone wants to laugh, but not everyone wants to watch something and bawl like a baby. Also, in the last few years, it has become cool to like comedy when it wasn’t always the case.
I love the feeling at a comedy show when you’re watching something so funny and the audience gets so into it. You know you’re all experiencing this together and it feels like you’re all in on something that no one else in the world is seeing. Nothing brings a bunch of strangers together like that feeling.
Ashley: Somewhere along the way comedians achieved rock star status. I remember a couple of years ago Levi MacDougall forwarding us an article that was about comedy groupies. We were like okay, I guess this somehow validates being in comedy! Comedy was no longer about trying to relate to a middle aged man harping on his wife or a middle-aged woman complaining about not getting a date. The comedian didn`t equal `loser`anymore. The internet has really helped with that I think. You don’t have to get discovered by some suits necessarily. You can post your work online and somewhere someone is going to find it. I think our generation and younger isn’t willing to accept the same old same old. It’s a lot easier to experiment when people are already paying attention and want you to show them something new. Even if you aren`t necessarily profiting from it.
Are these sort of videos in line with a philosophy or an aesthetic that Laugh Sabbath has?
Rebecca: Yes, definitely. Laugh Sabbath doesn’t want to make anything that has already been done. The comedians are all originals, with their own unique style and that’s why they work so well together, because it’s about their personalities.
Ashley: As Becca said, we don`t want to do what everyone else is doing, and we will be keeping that in mind when we screen submissions. It`s always been like if Russell Peters or Dane Cook was doing one thing, we wanted to do the complete opposite. We want to blow people`s minds. I think the majority who submit shorts to us will be people who have their own unique voice and style. These are the people who will be included in the fest.
When and where do you hope this will happen?
Rebecca: We know exactly when and where this will happen, but it’s a surprise. We have a big reveal coming, so stay tuned!
Ashley: Yes, we`re excited! We started very small as we weren`t sure how much interest we`d get and instead we`ve gotten so much support. People have been approaching us to help. I think that`s when we realized we were doing something really cool.