March 7, 2012 at 7:04am
STAND-UP COMEDY CAN BE BRUTAL >>>
There's nothing worse than a person who wants to be funny but isn't. It's painful to watch. There's a difference between having a good sense of humor and possessing the ability to be funny in front of a crowd, knowing timing, tone and body language.
I've been a judge for the Seattle International Comedy Competition at least once in each of the last three decades. I've watched one comedian after another take the stage to a thunderous round of applause, say words, then leave to a few hand claps. The competitors would repeat the process night after night in a different city until a champion was crowned.
Factor in a panel of humans - with jobs, mortgages, family and demons of their own - is there to judge, as well as pay for their own drinks. The results can be a crapshoot.
There isn't room for amateurs, at least at the Seattle International Comedy Competition.
And yet people like Mike Agostini continue to sign up and go through the grueling routine.
Agostini left teaching in 1997 after a 13-year run to start the Fairlane Painting Company. He always wanted to try stand-up but didn't work up the nerve to try until age 44. He broke his cherry at an open mic night at The Comedy Underground in Tacoma. The prestigious Seattle International Comedy Competition was his ultimate goal. In the '80s, Agostini pointed flashlights at seats during the competition at the Paramount Theatre. He'd pause and watch the comedians. He knew someday. ...
Twenty-two months after that first open mic night Agostini's name graced the list of SICC contestants.
The resulting documentary, Broken Mike, captures not only Agostini's pursuit of a dream but also the passion of several other contestants as they experience one of the most stressful weeks of their lives.
Broken Mike earned The Award of Excellence in Filmmaking from the Canada Film Festival. The one-day festival receives hundreds of submissions. It's an honor to be selected.
"I am traveling up there to attend the festival and awards presentation on March 31," Agostini says proudly.
Before Agostini heads north, he's screening the documentary in Tacoma Saturday night at the Grit City Comedy Club. I tossed a couple questions his way.
WEEKLY VOLCANO: How would you describe the documentary?
MIKE AGOSTINI: The doc is not just about me. It's a behind-the-scenes look into the minor league ranks of stand-up comedy. All famous comedians working today started the same way - one nighters battling with drunken hecklers. The doc captures all of it.
VOLCANO: How did you fare?
AGOSTINI: I start off well but quickly see my dream fading as I am consistently near the bottom of the 16-person field. Each new night brings new hope and I try again only to see the same result. Yet, every night I pick myself up and try again.
Others experience success. Some snap! Arlo Stone defends the Spotted Owl and threatens to burn down new construction sites in order to protect the old growth forests. Not a popular thing to say on stage in front of 700 loggers at The Columbia Theater in Longview.
VOLCANO: Has Broken Mike opened new doors?
AGOSTINI: Canada Film Festival is the first success, so I would have to say yes. Sixteen other festivals including Sundance have rejected the doc. Sundance is Mecca to filmmakers. I had to try. I am not sure why it is not experiencing more success. Maybe it is the content? Most docs focus on social issues or starving children. Mine has neither. The film was shot with some great cameras but the lighting is not always perfect - maybe that's why? To me it has a Gonzo or Guerrilla feel to it. Two doors that I hope it opens are Tacoma and the Seattle film festivals. I've submitted to both. Tacoma makes the decisions June and Seattle in April.
VOLCANO: How long was the film process?
AGOSTINI: The actual editing of the film took almost six years. I entered SICC in November of 2006 but was unable to afford an editor. We had 26 hours of film. In August of 2011 I finally met an amazing young man named Sean Puno who agreed to edit the film for me in exchange for 25 percent ownership of the profits. He knows there will be no profits; he's just a nice guy. But what he did was amazing.
The soundtrack is from Stewboss - an L.A. based band I met while down there a few years ago. Their music is a major reason the doc works.
VOLCANO: What are your reflections on your chops as a comic at this point in your career?
AGOSTINI: Funny to watch the film now. A lot of the jokes I do in the film I no longer do. Maybe it's me in a pink bra that is hurting my submission record?
I'm glad I started stand-up. Glad I entered SICC. But I rarely do stand-up these days. I still love it when I do. I've become Bill Murray on the piano in Groundhog Day. I can look at a stage and say to myself, "I could make these people laugh in here."
My new passion is acting. You can look me up on IMDB.com. I even got to work with Luke Perry on Leverage. He was awesome.
VOLCANO: What is your favorite time of day to watch a film in a theater?
AGOSTINI: I prefer watching movies in the afternoon. It is less expensive, and there is nobody wrestling with a plastic wrapper directly behind me.
VOLCANO: Why the screening Saturday night?
AGOSTINI: The event is a fundraiser to raise money for travel expenses to The Canada Film Festival as well as others that we will hopefully get into. Admission to the event is on a donation basis - whatever people feel like contributing. I will also have DVDs for sale of Broken Mike for $15. I will also be performing that same night - doing an extended "guest spot" with headliner Joe Fontenote at 8:30 p.m.
[Grit City Comedy Club, Broken Mike screening, Saturday, March 10, 5:30 p.m., donations, Broken Mike DVDs $15, 445 Tacoma Ave. S., Tacoma, 253.961.4262]
Off duty rules.
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