At the first annual New York Comedy Film Festival, most of the best-known names were off screen. Joan Rivers was Honorary Jury President, comics like Harry Shearer provided pre-film warm-ups, and Ben Stiller handed out the awards. But when the lights went down, the focus shifted to a new generation of not-yet-knowns who might help revive the art of film comedy — if Hollywood doesn’t get to them first.
So maybe it was fitting that the fest’s two funniest films were about idealistic artists who go Hollywood and (barely) survive the experience. In the autobiographical Good Money, which won Best Feature honors, writer-director-star Jeremiah Bosgang charts his career as a struggling writer-turned-NBC executive-turned- struggling writer (with amusing bits by the Seinfeld cast, the late Brandon Tartikoff, and Dick Cavett, who gets spanked in a crowd-pleasing dream sequence). In the delicious Who’s the Caboose, codirectors Sam Seder and Dean Hollander depict the rise and fall of a New York performance artist who follows his stand-up-comic girlfriend (Sarah Silverman) to L.A., where they both sell out. Neither of these films has a distributor (though the funny-in-name-only Killer Condom does), but they should land one after this. So should Eight Days a Week, a sweet sleeper about a teen (Joshua Schaefer) who stages a summerlong vigil under the window of the gorgeous girl next door.
But the features were only part of the fun. The highlights among the nearly 40 short films: Best Short winner The Fifteen Minute Hamlet, a trippingly abridged Shakespeare adaptation — by way of Tom Stoppard — starring Austin Pendleton; Multiplex (cowritten by Conan O’Brien), which shows kids how to see eight movies for the price of one; Rob Reiner’s demo reel for This Is Spinal Tap; and a preview of South Park’s Halloween episode.
These shorts may be only the calling cards of filmmakers with feature-length dreams — but they also represent an art form that deserves a better forum. Looks like they’ll have one.