Saturday, June 22, 2024

Movie Review: ‘Laugh Proud’ Breaks Barriers and Lightens Hearts

Director: Quentin Lee
Stars: Jazzmun, Jason Stuart, Kit DeZolt

Synopsis: Nine diverse LGBTQ+ comics each perform a short set connected by a hostess with the mostest in an orgiastic one-night stand starring fresh comics to veteran comic Jason Stuart and the world’s first intersex comic 7G.

Laugh Proud is a stand-up comedy film – a set of nine vignetted LGBTIQ+ performers, each with their own comedy brand. Filmed in July 2023 at the Los Angeles LGBT Centre, actor and performer Jazzmun hosts a diverse and eclectic range of queer artists. Irreverent and mostly funny – this is a light-hearted affair with a focus for queer voices.

With a zippy pace, Laugh Proud begins with an opening text crawl depicting the expansion of the Nazi’s criminal code against homosexuality in 1934 – archive footage rolling in the background. By the time of World War II, branded with the ‘Pink Triangle,’ queers were easily identifiable by the SS throughout concentration camps – over 10,000 German and Austrian men were arrested, and many killed. As an introduction intended to feel dour, the tone quickly changes gear.

The ‘Pink Triangle’ now lights the neon backdrop of the film’s title as a vivacious montage introduces the nine performers who will take the stage – a call back to the reclamation of self-identity by the queer liberation movement from the 1970s onward. Director Quentin Lee makes the audience instantly aware that pride and laughter are at the forefront of the film – subverting the idea that LGBT+ performers only have a traumatic history in their repertoire.

From Jason Stuart, Christian Cintron, Amanda Alvich, Juno Men, Asha ‘August’ Hall, Brian Clark, Rowan Niles, and the first intersex stand-up comic ‘7G,’ the diversity on display is hard not to notice. Whether it be the hell hole of gay dating apps, lesbian emotional turmoil, navigating the world as a trans person of color, or even just complaining about children – the entire gamut of queer experiences is open to amusement or relatability. It is also an excellent achievement to give voice to an intersex artist who brings something new and unique to the comedy world.

Most of the comics use anecdotal or observational humor, and for the most part, this brand of comedy works to their talents. The opener, Kit DeZolt, introduces the woes of losing your virginity in embarrassing ways, the life of being an adopted queer – “I got my first rejection when I was born”, and the power of humor from a lived experience. Juno Men offers a noteworthy bit about not living up to your parents’ expectations as a trans comic—”you will be no son of mine” is given a funny new meaning. 7G makes the audience howl with a story about how hard it is to “play with a non-binary, trans masc dude” before making everyone chant a word you’ll never expect. It can get absurd at times, but it is unapologetic.

Unfortunately, the film can feel disjointed and rushed. The original recording seemed to clock in at the 2-and-a-half-hour mark, and this truncated 90-minute special sometimes feels like a tasting of multiple dishes rather than a full meal. The editing is particularly jarring and noticeable—Jazzmun abruptly cuts off numerous times, which is evidently to reduce the runtime. It’s not a serious detractor, as portmanteau stand up shows by design can get messy and run with a quickened pace.

At worst, some comics’ time allotment is far briefer than others. At best, it is a springboard that inspires us to seek out these artists if people want to follow their careers elsewhere. There is a specific power in giving a comprehensive platform to many marginalized voices – strictly without making their marginalization the butt of every joke. These are real experiences, and it is willing to make humor out of everything from the benign to the serious aspects of life. Sometimes though, you want a bit more time to listen.

Laugh Proud achieves precisely the sort of tone the title expects of it. As the special’s anthological format can inspire, some stand-up comedians are bound to make people laugh more than others, but that is okay – there is something here for everyone in the queer community. It is an at-times too brief introduction to some of America’s funniest LGBTIAQ+ comics, but it is not without many laughs and a penchant for telling proudly quirky stories.

Grade: B

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