The Opening Act

At the Movies Blog

Jimmy O. Yang is the comedian (left), Felipe Esparza is the cabbie.

When you love something, you’re excited when a movie is made about it. That doesn’t mean it’s always a match made in heaven. The Doors are my favorite band. The movie on the band was awful. I grew up playing basketball and love the sport. Yet a lot of basketball movies are corny (Hoosiers may have been corny, but my basketball coach at Mira Mesa High, the great Tim Cunningham, took us to see it instead of practice one day; that makes you like a film a bit more). 

Stand-up comedy is something I love. I’ve even written jokes for some big-name comedians. Yet often, the movies about stand-up comedy are disappointing. The first one I recall seeing was Punchline (1988) with Tom Hanks and Sally Field. It was awful.

Judd Apatow’s Funny People with Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen was terrific, and made my Top 10 list in 2009.

Adam Carolla’s Roadhard in 2015 was okay, but I wanted to like it more (especially since it had Jay Mohr and David Alan Grier, two of the funniest men on the planet). 

The King of Comedy is a Scorsese classic, but it’s not really about stand-up comedy, per se.

Steve Byrne is a stand-up comedian who wrote and directed The Opening Act, and he cast the perfect lead — Jimmy O. Yang. 

Yang has been getting popular in film roles (he was the craziest of the Crazy Rich Asians cast), but I once saw him as the “opening act” in San Diego for the terrific Paul Ogata (and local comedian Josh Nelson did an incredible 20 minute set). Yang was the opener, and his 10 minute set was solid.

This movie utilizes his acting talent and sense of humor, to perfectly convey a guy who loves comedy and is good at it — he’s just not very experienced.

The movie starts brilliantly. We see father and son bonding over their love of stand-up comedians. This gives us clips of some of the best contemporary stand-ups, as the pair watch them on TV (with the boy getting older, and having to prove he’s getting good grades if he’s going to sit in front of the TV watching comedy).

And what a pleasant surprise to go from thinking that the big name comedians I love would just be in small clips, to seeing them sprinkled throughout the movie. There were small parts for Felipe Esparza as a cab driver, Kathy Madigan as the talent booker, and Whitney Cummings as a headliner. The always funny Alonzo Bodden plays a tough bouncer. Two other comedians I love had small roles — Roy Wood Jr. (The Daily Show) and Illiza Schlesinger. And a few bigger parts were given to comedians who have become huge on the big screen — Bill Burr plays the annoying boss, and Ken Jeong plays an up-and-coming comedian who’s having a bit more success than Yang’s Will Chu character. One of the fun things about Jeong’s character is — not only is he funny, but…he’s not just concerned with meeting women at the club. Sure, he likes having a wingman and getting some action, but he also cares about Will. And later, when we see Alex Moffat as a veteran road comedian — he also takes a liking to Will. Doesn’t mean he isn’t going to drink and try to score, but…there’s something refreshing about him giving some sage advice to the youngster. Especially after he gets blown off by one of his childhood idols — Billy G (played by Cedric the Entertainer). 

It’s fun watching Will trying to avoid drunk women at the club, since he’s in a great relationship with Jen (Debby Ryan). 

There are a lot of things you may see coming, and there’s nothing wrong with that. At one point when Will bombs on stage, I expressed concern, only to hear my wife say, “Did you really think a story about a comedian wouldn’t have him bombing at some point?”

The movie had a few flaws. The writing could have been a little sharper, and the story a bit edgier. 

I felt Billy G’s catch phrase of “Oh, Billy!” wasn’t good enough. Perhaps it’s just because I thought about how hysterical it was when Fred Willard (RIP) played a former child actor in A Mighty Wind and kept trying to work in his old phrase of “Wha’ happened?” 

Side note: this movie is better than A Mighty Wind, which was a love letter to folk bands. This movie is a love letter to stand-up comedy, and a solid one.

For every scene that didn’t work for me (the comedians dealing with an annoying morning zoo radio show, or a club owner who is unrealistic)…there are at least 10 other scenes that are terrific.

And who wouldn’t love hearing Ken Jeong yell into the phone, “Hey fuuuuuuuuuuc* face!” or to hear him tell a crazy masturbation joke.

The closing credits, where some of the comedians talk about performances they had that bombed, was a perfect way to close the show.

Whether you’re a lover of stand-up comedy or not, you’ll enjoy this movie. Catch it on Amazon Prime.

3 ½ stars out of 5.

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