The audience is packed tight in the four-hundred-person comedy theater on Melrose Boulevard. Before the lights go down, drinks are clinking, and overworked waitstaff are scrambling to get plates of fried chicken fingers to their tables. One man sitting near the stage says, to no one in particular, that tonight "better be f*%$@#g funny." His girlfriend asks him to check the score on the Lakers game.
It’s Mo Betta’ Mondays at the Hollywood Improv, a night usually sold-out, but especially packed this evening for the DVD release party of Lionsgate’s Frankenhood. The cast will be performing stand-up comedy sets, and the audience wants to get to it.
If you haven’t yet heard of Frankenhood, think Half Baked meets Weekend At Bernie’s; a stoner romp from the perspective of a few ambitious losers who end up resurrecting a Shaq-esque corpse with a car battery to play on their three man basketball team.
Believable? Not in the least. But that shouldn’t stop anyone from getting a hilarious kick out of the performances of some immensely talented comedians in the movie and on the evening’s bill.
The show begins. DeRay Davis (Semi Pro) takes to the mic as host, and immediately delivers a send-up of an overdressed woman in the front row.
"What do you do, baby?" he probes. "Are you going to prom after this?"
"I sing," she naively responds, after the laughter dies down.
"Then get up here and sing!" he yells, and steps away from the mic stand. The audience goes crazy. She stands, gives one solid look at how many people are watching her, and sits back down.
"Honey you can’t be dressing like a dream girl if you ain’t gonna live the dream."
The audience explodes.
Screen Junkies: Congrats on the movie.
Blaxwell Smart: Thanks, I’m real excited by everything going so well.
SJ: You have a lot of stand-up comedians playing major roles in the movie. What was important about the skills of stand-up comedy to the creation of Frankenhood?
BS: I want this movie to appeal to the broadest range of people possible. Mostly, when I pictured making this movie in the very beginning, there were three people that I knew, I was sure, that I wanted to have, and I was very lucky that I got all three of them. DeRay Davis, Jasper Redd, and Charlie Murphy. DeRay is just such a powerhouse, you saw him tonight. He’s so comfortable with humor. Jasper is a young guy who’s been coming up for a while now, and you know all about Charlie Murphy if you’ve ever watched the Chappelle Show.
SJ: A few of the comedians tonight, DeRay especially, joked about the movie being low budget, with only a million dollars to work with. Even though you have major distribution, would you still call Frankenhood an independent picture?
BS: Oh, absolutely. We were hoping for a major theatrical release in the beginning, and we had to spend a lot of time scraping by and seeing what we could come up with to make it all work. But then we realized how much potential the movie has to become a cult classic as a DVD.
SJ: So a straight-to-DVD release is more of an intentional plan.
BS: It’s where the money is. The majority of the money comes from the back end, things like DVD’s, and the audience for this movie will probably most want to take it in that way.
SJ: Who would you call the audience for this movie? Considering the mostly black cast and urban themed subject matter, I assume you’re targeting a mostly urban audience.
BS: Stoners will laugh at this movie. That’s an urban audience, definitely, but that’s also everyone, college kids, anyone. They’re the ones who will take in the movie on DVD and watch it with their friends, get stoned and laugh.
Back to the show, DeRay brings up Jasper Redd, a budding young comic who has been featured in his own Comedy Central Presents special, and on the Comedians Of Comedy tour with Patton Oswalt. Redd delivers a three minute, medium-energy rant trying to discern what exactly Grimace (from McDonald’s lore) is. We spoke after the show.
SJ: Great show tonight.
Jasper Redd: Thanks, thanks yeah it was fun.
SJ: This was your first major film role, yes?
JR: That’s right.
SJ: As a stand-up comedian first, how was the transition from live performance to film work? Where there any challenges you didn’t expect?
JR: Yeah man. Movies definitely aren’t my first thing. As a comedian on set, I always tried to focus on the performance, which was a mistake. It was a challenge, but it was also what I wanted to do.
SJ: You’re not used to ensemble work.
JR: Right. The idea of other people there, and making it about what everyone else is doing, all that was new to me. It’s crazy not just having the audience to deal with.
SJ: So how did you get involved with the movie in the first place?
JR: I wanted to expand my brand as a comedian. You’ve got to make yourself worth as much as possible, and I want to be as funny as possible, and films are a way to make my live comedy more valuable. Hopefully, I can be a part of making the movie funnier to people, and promote it a bunch touring around the country.
SJ: That makes sense. Dave Chappelle started out in Half Baked, which seems like a similar type of thing that audience would be into. I’d even say that I hear a Chappelle influence in your stand-up.
JR: I’ve gotten that before, but it’s not the only thing. I have a lot of comedy influences that I try to bring to the table and make mine.
SJ: To shape your voice on stage.
SJ: I was talking to Blaxwell about the target audience, and he said stoners would love it.
JR: [laughs] Yeah, that’s true. If you smoke some weed, chill out with a friend, and watch Bob Sapp come back from the dead, you’ll have a good night.
So, that’s two get-stoned-and-it’s-a-better-movie recommendations. Personally, believe it. That’s definitely the best way to take in the cast’s other works (Hassan Johnson from The Wire, and of course, Charlie Murphy from Chappelle’s Show). Of course, Screen Junkies doesn’t condone doing any kind of drug use. But suffice it to say, if you’re in the proper condition to giggle, a movie like Frankenhood is probably the right choice for you.
The show ends with DeRay thanking everybody for coming out, and as the lights come up, getting Blaxwell to take a bow. Filing out, the man in the front row says to no one in particular, "that s&%t was f*%$@#g funny." His girlfriend adds, "and the Lakers won!"
FRANKENHOOD is available on DVD 5/5/09
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