Laugh it up 

click to enlarge PHOTO BY MIKE CRANE / TOURISM WHISTLER - A full house at the 72 hour Filmmaker Showdown in Whistler Conference Centre
  • photo by Mike Crane / Tourism Whistler
  • A full house at the 72 hour Filmmaker Showdown in Whistler Conference Centre

The old saying is "Laughter is the best medicine," and while that doesn't mean it's the perfect medicine (even laughter can't cure ALS, as we saw in John Zaritsky's doc Leave Them Laughing), it certainly feels better than anything else.

According to Psychology Today magazine, laughter is not something we learn, but rather an instinctive behaviour programmed into our genes. This is why watching someone walk into a lamppost is always kind of awesome no matter where you come from, and why laughter creates some of the strongest human bonds possible.

This bonding is easily recognizable: a good gag will almost always play better in a crowded movie theatre or comedy club than it will home alone with your laptop. Comedy highlights warmth of a shared human experience, when we all laugh together we feel reassured that others see/hear/feel the same world we do, thus we feel that much less alone.

We are not living in a golden era of cinematic comedy right now. The only thing passing for a comedy at the Village 8 this week is Going in Style, a bank heist flick in which three retirees become so fed-up with crooked banks, slashed pensions, and the state of things in general, they hatch a plan to stick it to the man and take back what's theirs.

There were no pre-screenings for this one (generally a bad sign for anything but horror) but the pedigree is strong: Zach Braff (Garden State) directs, off a script by Ted Melfi (St. Vincent, Hidden Figures) and the leads are Morgan Freeman, Alan Arkin and Michael Caine. The trailer isn't hilarious (and I'm concerned Braff and Melfi don't put as much thought into their elderly female characters as they should have) but it's nice to see the old timers do their thing, even in a forgettable flick.

Despite the lack of kneeslappers at the Village 8, there will be plenty of laughs at the 72 Hour Filmmaker Showdown, the liveliest event of the World Ski & Snowboard Festival. Filmmaking teams have just three days to shoot, edit and produce a short film and judging from the past decade, comedy will be the main course of the night. Held Wednesday, April 12, the filmmaker showdown has dozens of contestants from all over the West Coast, but the local filmmakers almost always shine the brightest. There might still be tix floating around, grab 'em if you see 'em.

While the cinema falters, stand-up comedy is enjoying a new golden age. Stand-up kind of acts as a cultural barometer for society's anxiety: the first golden age of stand-up took place in the 1970s, rooted in the second half of the Vietnam War and the continued civil rights struggles of the time. North American morale was at a low and comics like George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Steve Martin, Gilda Radner and Robin Williams elevated the art form into the mainstream. Sketch TV like Saturday Night Live and SCTV took hold and Johnny Carson changed late night. After a hard decade, when people needed to laugh the most they could.

Things dipped a bit in the '80s as the bandwagon got crowded (also, maybe the proliferation of cocaine made everyone in the audience think they themselves were comedians). Eddie Murphy had some standout shows but the Cold War was ending, Iraq didn't scare us enough and by the 1990s, stand up had begun to evolve into "alternative" storytelling, partially because TV networks (notorious for being late to the trends) were handing out sitcom shows to anyone who'd ever held a mic. Seinfeld, a show proudly about nothing, was the high-water mark, but, conversely, there's a special circle of hell reserved for Tim Allen's Home Improvement reruns.

These days, with all the corruption, greed, lies and environmental degradation filtering down from the top we probably need to laugh more than ever, and we are. On-demand platforms are perfect for niche stand-up shows (Amy Schumer and Dave Chappelle both had Netflix specials last month) and live comedy is back on top. Kevin Hart's tours are making more money than any comic in history, and even here in the Sea to Sky locals like Jon Baum and Kelly Dyer keep the torch burning bright at regular stand-up nights. The WSSF is even on board with the grand finale of their Whistler Comedy Showdown, kicking off Tuesday, April 11 at Buffalo Bills.

Can laughter save the world? It certainly won't hurt.

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