Jordan Mazzioti is the founder and host of It’s Always Funny in Salt Lake, a comedy show at Keys on Main that runs once every two months. His show brings together some of the biggest names in Utah comedy and throws in rising stars as well as heavy hitters or traveling comedians. Jason Harvey created a monthly show that can be seen at 5 Monkeys in Murray. His format is part over-the-top interview show, and part comedy from some of the best names Utah has to offer as well as guest appearances from comedians all over the country. These two funny-men on the same stage at the same time was oftentimes as beautiful as it was awkward, just like that girl you took to Senior Prom.
The atmosphere at Keys on Main is great for a comedy show. The bartenders are quick and friendly, the drinks and beer selection were fantastic and the finger food is pretty darn good. The room was buzzing with over 100 people in attendance, and each performer kept them laughing. It was an eclectic mix of people in suits and cocktail attire and comedy-philes in T-shirts and jeans. I almost felt the need to apologize to the staff—it seemed like it was a pretty classy joint for such odd people to come in and completely take it over for a night. I settled in with a beer, some good friends, and a huge tower of nachos next to the stage. There really weren’t any bad seats in the house.
The comics onstage for the night brought entirely different styles to the table. After a brief turf war of the hosting duties, Mazzioti and Harvey took turns introducing the show and their own comedic musings. Mazzioti matched fashionably from head to toe, talked about his married life and family, and made the people on the front row feel at ease. That is, until Harvey rushed the stage with a dramatic “Taaaaaag,” and took over. The calm, Sunday-friendly mood took a turn for the hilarious as Harvey compared male appendages to the cinematic masterpiece Die Hard. For the rest of the night, the two hosts played nice and joined forces to expose the crowd to great comic acts, and then proceeded to grill those talented people with the “Other Opinions” part of the show, a series of deep-thinking questions with answers that are always correct.
Aaron Orlovitz took to the stage first to explain how he was introduced to John Belushi and found out the hard way that Google searches aren’t always safe in post-9/11 America. During his Other Opinions section, the audience learned that Macaulay Culkin would someday die and go to heroin heaven if Orlovitz controlled the cosmos. Following Orlovitz was Taylor Hunsaker who encouraged the audience to make a trip to the OBGYN much more awesome for her. Only she could make the C-word sound so much more endearing. When grilled by Mazzioti and Harvey she was loudly interrupted by a 9/11 Truther (special guest appearance by Nicholas Smith), who demanded to know their take on the matter. Once Smith was dragged off by the brave, yet self-proclaimed inebriated Toy Soup, the show commenced with only a few audience members still shaking in fear at Smith’s “inside voice.”
Quick Wits founder Bob Bedore rounded off the first half of the night talking about getting older and gaining weight, as well as his slightly emotional attachment to his memory foam mattress. When Mazzioti and Harvey joined him onstage, the medical community was shocked at the invention of a new disease called “Himpes,” or “Love Bumps” then enlightened the audience with John Stamos’ last words. Next, Paul Sheffield took to the stage and wowed the crowd with his life lessons on everything ranging from roommates to being single to his secrets of warfare and dude stuff like sports and working out. Life in your thirties is less sad and depressing when Sheffield talks about it. While Mazzioti, Harvey, and Sheffield were talking about their great ideas for forming a cult, they were abruptly stopped by another heckler. The Unabomber-looking man demanded to know what to get for his anniversary in three hours, only to find out that his wife was on the other side of the room, hidden in the audience. Needless to say, there was trouble in paradise (guest appearances by Christopher Stephenson and Natashia Mower respectively).
After the audience could again calm down from all of the excitement, veteran comic of 30 years and SLC local Keith Barany got the mic. I couldn’t help at this point notice how many people were drinking wine at a comedy show, but during Barany’s set it totally worked. He compared living in Los Angeles to living in Salt Lake City, and taught us all how to properly deal with an alpha-male. Proving he was really quick on his feet, Barany gave the best answer of the night when Harvey asked him what he believes would be the best way to die. The answer? Jumping off a tall building and landing on Carlos Mencia’s head. To break up the monotony of people with microphones talking to the audience, Toy Soup rushed to the stage for a set of darkly superb improv. Consisting of Andrew Jensen and Troy Taylor, the two hilariously solved a crime involving a Bounty Hunter that took place in Narnia, where he was murdered with a nefarious looking sex-toy. Later, the audience could take in and fully appreciate the spectacle of Bigfoot getting a wax job. They finished of with Mazzioti and Harvey getting them to lead the crowd in an expletive-laden Gregorian chant.
Finishing off the night was headliner and Las Vegas comedian Steve McInelly. McInelly let us all in on his version of a gay fantasy, and I can’t ruin the punchline, but even hardcore homophobes would have to agree on the arrangement of Kanye West and Chris Brown. If anyone in the audience did not understand that comedy is often irreverent and raunchy, McInelly talking about Irish sex, trophy wives, and naming his penis would have given them a crash course. Mazzioti and Harvey pulled at his heart strings and philanthropic side and asked him if he’d donate a leg or an arm. Without hesitation, McInelly would donate a leg, assuming the woman who needed it would be really short, so he could watch her walk in lopsided circles.
The show was a hit, proving once and for all that it really IS always funny in Salt Lake City, and that comedians will often have other opinions on otherwise nonsensical subjects. The show was well worth the $10 ticket price to get in. For that, not only were the seven comedians fresh and talented, the surprises and unscripted moments were absolutely entertaining to be a part of. You can check out pages for all of the comedians on Twitter and Facebook, as well as catch the next performance each month for It’s Always Funny in Salt Lake and Comedy and Other Opinions. No one should miss out on another one of these, because it’s a one-time event, and you’ll never see anything like it again.
Local filmmakers, actors and writers put their skills to the test last weekend for the 2015 installment of the 48 Hour Film Project and subsequent short film festival. Starting Friday, June 12, registered teams celebrated the 48-hour time-crunch kick-off by drawing a genre from a popcorn bucket, and then racing to get their films in by the Sunday, June 14 deadline. Despite not knowing their genre in advance—possibilities ranged from Musical to Fantasy to Romance to Horror as well as everything in between—teams only had 48 hours (plus a 30-minute drive time to cut down on accidents) to cast, write, shoot and edit a 4–7–minute short film. SLUG was lucky enough to sit down with 48 Hour Film Project producer Brian Higgins to see what makes this one of the world’s most unique film challenge experiences.
Higgins started out as a 48 Hour Film Project participant for five years in Boston, and he’s now been the producer for the festival in Salt Lake City for the past six years. “Seeing the creativity of what people can do in 48 hours is incredible,” he says. “You don’t have a film on Friday, and then on Sunday you do and then you’re watching it in the cinema.” Each year has different groups, ranging from 48 hour veterans to brand new teams across all ages, backgrounds and artistic styles. This year, Salt Lake City hit a new record: of the 32 entries, only two were submitted after the deadline. Late entries can still be screened at one of the three screenings, however, they are not eligible for any of the awards with the exception of the audience award. What makes this such a unique film challenge is that you are not only competing against your peers in your city, you are up against filmmakers around the world, from Tokyo to Sydney to London. Winners from each city go on to compete again—at Filmapalooza at Grauman’s Chinese theater in Hollywood—where the winners get screened at the Cannes Film Festival in France. This means that every year, any actor, director or cinematographer from any town in the world, including Salt Lake City, has the chance of getting discovered at Cannes just by making a quick and clever short film over the weekend with some friends.
There are some elements that make the 48 Hour Film Project unique, and that is that you never know what you’ll get. Teams range from one person to 100 people, and a budget of pizza money to being able to afford full scale props and effects. Each year has a different set of requirements that have to be included—as a challenge and to make sure the films aren’t being made in advance. This year contestants had to feature a character named Greg or Gretta Maisel, feature a key chain as a prop, and use the statement “Your guess is as good as mine.” Interestingly enough, this year, none of the teams drew the coveted horror genre, which doesn’t mean there was a shortage of stage blood or shocks. This year there is an animated film in the running as well as a short period piece featuring an antique B-17 Bomber. Higgins points out that the beauty in the films lies in the creativity of the teams. “You can use these three things to see where they take you, but some people just squeeze them in.” He also muses, “We had a lot of drones shooting footage last year.”
At the 9 p.m. showing of the Group B set at the Broadway Theater, 11 films (one was a late submission) were screened. The genres on the ballot ranged from “fish out of water” to “superhero.” After the screening, a short Q and A took place with the directors and some cast members. Cleverly named team Alpaca Punch thanked their puppeteer in the audience for “making the piranha tail move just right.” Team Red Leader and their Romance short Your Hand in Mime featured a mostly silent film with the protagonist being a mime falling in love with a pretty waitress. Nick Markham let the audience in on why they went with a silent film as a choice “There was a flash mob of about 50 Peruvian dancers who showed up”. They filmed at the Salt Lake City Library, which is usually relatively quiet and peaceful, “Of all the days for a Peruvian group from Colorado to show up,” he says. Also screened in Group B was the period piece Dearest Gretta, where the lucky team procured the B-17 Bomber and authentic vintage costumes. “To be honest, I just got really lucky with it. I had an in with the WWII guys,” says Freelance Film’s Lance Nelson. “The hardest part was not laughing. The Utah Military History Group are the funniest guys I’ve ever met. I was laughing and trying not to shake the camera.”
The films that will play at the June 23 award screening have all won awards based on the judges decisions, and they will all be sent to the Headquarters in Washington D.C. Winners will be announced as their films play. Higgins encourages others to take part in this and other film events. “Just knowing that I’m part of the creativity of Salt Lake and that just keeps getting better and better. It’s a wonderful place to live.” Higgins, originally from Ireland, calls himself a “trans-media” story teller, running this festival as well as others in the valley, and also has a focus on mental health through film called Create Reel Change. He states that the what filmmakers can get out of the challenge is “Validation, and love and support from their peers, and the opportunity to screen, and smiles for everyone.” He’s also got advice for future participants. “Keep it simple. A lot of people fail because they overreach. Simple film, small teams, and have fun.” The formula for success: “Structure. It’s a timed competition, so structure is important. And rely on the community.”
The awards show is at 7 p.m. at the Broadway Theater in Salt Lake City and tickets are $12 at the door. You can also check out Brian Higgins’ other projects Create Reel Change and Filmulate, as well as see his stand-up routine sometime around town. More information on the 48 Hour Film Project can be found at 48hourfilm.com the Salt Lake screening information can be seen at 48hourfilm.com/en/saltlakecity/.
He took a break from comedy to pursue filmmaking in his early 20s, spending a few months pounding out a script and actively trying to get it made. His repertoire includes some short films as well as an elusive “stripper documentary” that he didn’t delve into too much, to Staker’s surprise. He has decided that comedy is more of his thing these days. He says, “Making people laugh is one of the best gifts that someone can have.” He’s been interested in documenting the conversations people have about film for awhile. “I feel like everyone likes movies, despite who they are or what they do,” says James. “It’s weird—it’s one of those things that if you love something, you can jabber on about it.”
The bubbly counterpart to James is Quinci Staker, who was born with film in her blood. She has been acting since the second grade, focusing on film when she turned 18. Staker and James met on a casting call that he did on his script. In fact, he still had her head shot years later when she joined his podcast, which wasn’t creepy at all or anything, according to Staker. Her goal is to be able to take a part in at least one film in every genre, and her passion has always really been in drama. This is her first podcast, and she jumped on the opportunity to co-host, as she shared the same love and nerdiness for film as James.
When James approaches people to be on the show, he asks for their top 20 favorite films. “Everybody has their go-to movies that they either love talking about or they love telling people to see.” He’s got the set up of mics, a laptop, and couches in the living room of his apartment. James sees this as an opportunity to have an uncensored talk about movies where anything can happen with people who are experts on the movies that they love. “You can’t judge a book by it’s cover,” says Staker. “I know that there have been a lot of people and the stuff that they’re into, you would’ve never known in a million years.”
Staker reminisces on her favorite episode, “When Cinematic Animals Attack,” with the one and only Melissa Merlot. “I don’t think I’ve really laughed as much as I did with Melissa,” she says with a huge smile on her face. James agrees, “Melissa has the most infectious laugh, and she could say the stupidest thing, and I’d still laugh.” One of their most memorable moments was on the recent Roadtrips episode where things got really uncomfortable and up close and personal between James, Staker and guest Shayne Smith talking about their, uh, sexual encounters. “Every episode has genuine moments, and I can pick out a favorite moment from every one,” says James.
Just to put the hosts on the spot, I had to turn the tables and find out what their favorite movies are. In order to trust these nerds as an authority on the matter, this is the most important question that could be asked. Staker is an all-time fan of Trainspotting, and credits this as the film that got her interested in filmmaking. James names underground and underappreciated dark comedy Death to Smoochy. Although, he’s not shy about his absolute love for romantic comedies, either. Now, if you think you can trust these nerds, you’ve got some podcasts to listen to.
You can download the In Movie Nerds We Trust podcast on iTunes and Stitcher. Jordon Mazzioti is their current sponsor and also designed their eye-popping graphics. Check out local filmmakers at the upcoming FilmQuest event, and stay tuned for live events coming up at summer’s end for the duo. You can also follow them on facebook and twitter to get exclusives on new episodes and see pictures from the taping.