Today the Los Angeles Comedy Shorts Film Festival confirmed my prejudice that good comedy requires the same foundation as any story — good structure and characters you care about. The films that have these are memorable and evoke an emotional response. Without them comedy can only rise to the level of a really good New Yorker cartoon. The following shorts all had the secret ingredients.
The Tomato (director Brandon Dexter) illustrates that good comedy is not just about crazy graphics, obnoxious behavior or exaggeration. It’s about making us care about people. Two people living desperate lives together as children’s school assembly performers — the husband, a singing and dancing banana, and his wife, the tomato. We meet them, understand their despair, and they reach a crisis. We laugh, but we relate to them as well. Although the filmmakers say they have no plans to expand this short, it seemed like the beginning of a feature film or series. Great.
In Sex Ed (director Ryan Gould), our hero is a 30-year-old virgin health counselor who shows up at a high school class to teach about inoculations but gets roped into teaching advanced sex education. This sounds like the setup for a gross or dirty joke, but the story is there and it is charming.
Russian Recommendation for Recession (director Tanya Bershadsky), although just a fun spoof of an amateurish webcast, manages, like The Tomato, to connect us to the characters and make us care about them. This is one episode of a continuing series which can be found at Bershadsky's website.
A Short Film (director Rick Williamson) is so short and so funny it’s difficult to say anything about it without saying too much. I’ll keep it short. Short dude. Short horse. Long, hilarious credits.
Civil War Letters (director Randy Foreman) is about relationships again. It’s obvious from the beginning where this is going, but it’s done so well and filmed so beautifully that you don’t care and the ending is a surprise anyway.
Meltdown (director David Green) is a depraved Veggie Tale. An old refrigerator is set too cold. Slowly but inevitably the ice buildup is freezing the inhabitants. Who can save them, the celery, the ham sandwich? This film doesn’t have heart (or liver), but it does have oranges and a very romantic carton of milk. Sad, tragic fun.