Humor is the great curative potion for pain. It's a concept we're all familiar with, and it's something Canadian director David Adkin has mulled over for a long time. In making his film We're Funny That Way, featuring eleven gay and lesbian comedians speaking their minds on and off stage at a gay comedy festival in Toronto, Adkin found the perfect way to illustrate the notion. The resulting work, an exuberant and reflective documentary that almost anyone can appreciate on one level or another, screens this weekend as part of the first Mountain States Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.
"It was my own insane idea," Adkin says of the inaugural Toronto fest and the film he made there. When the idea for a film on gay and lesbian comedy came up at a meeting some years ago, its logistics were the first obstacle. "We figured we could fly a film crew all over America and set up in the basements of all those awful comedy clubs--or we could create an event in Toronto and bring the comics here." That, Adkin explains, ballooned into the idea for a festival. It took two years to raise funding for the project and nearly another year to make and complete the film.
Adkin personally handled the festival's casting with a documentary in mind. "I wanted a true cross-section of the gay/lesbian community, reflecting different styles and an equal balance of men and women." A cross-section is exactly what he got, from the achingly straightforward HIV-positive humorist Steve Moore to riffing, scat-singing, unapologetic dyke comedian Lea Delaria. "I figured with that group of performers, the challenge was not to make a funny film, but to make a film that was thoughtful," Adkin says. But what he got in the end was a poignant film not so much about being gay as it is about the social function of humor as a healing, informational and political tool.
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Some highlights? Adkin himself demurs at making choices from such a fabulous pool. He tried, he says, to pick the very best performance moments as a counterpoint to the interview sequences: "What I was looking for in the performance mate-rial were the absolutely funniest, biggest laughs, as well as those moments where they really engaged the audience and you can feel the energy going back and forth." But Adkin still admits he loves Moore's bit on miracle cures, ending with a crack about an HIV-positive baby that cured itself: "I'm going to find that baby," Moore teases, "and I'm going to eat it. Is that wrong?" Adkin calls Jaffe Cohen, an articulate soul who's both gay and Jewish, a philosopher tuned into the freeing aspects of humor. Then again, Adkin also extols Bob Smith's deft way with the classic one-liner. Smith's reply when a right-wing Bible-thumper asks if he's ready for judgment day? Says Smith: "No, I'm not. I have so much shopping to do."
Now moving on to the ambitious project of filming a television documentary series on the history of same-sex love, Adkin looks at We're Funny That Way as the capper to a trilogy on gay issues that includes a documentary about the coming-out stories of gay and lesbian teens and Jim Loves Jack, based on the story of pioneer Canadian gay-rights activist Jim Egan. "I finished off with something funny and fast," he says. "And while it's funny and entertaining, it moves beyond that to being about how we need to be comfortable with ourselves in society. But all three films have the same message: Being gay isn't the problem; ignorance is the problem."
The Mountain States Gay and Lesbian Film Festival presents We're Funny That Way, by David Adkin, 4 p.m. March 6, AMC Tivoli 12 Theatre, $7, 303-831-6268, ext. 22, www.coloradopridecenter.org/filmfest.