You might say the L.A. Comedy Shorts Film Festival, which kicks off Thursday night in downtown Los Angeles, was born amid tragedy. Co-founders Gary Anthony Williams and Jeannie Roshar, both actors and comedians, got the idea for the event while showing a humorous short at a surprisingly glum film festival in San Diego.
"Our little comedy was sandwiched between all these tragedies where literally in every one of them, somebody died," Williams said. "Nothing but death and destruction, and then there was our happy comedy."
The incident inspired them to create the L.A. Comedy Shorts Film Festival. Now in its fourth year, the festival runs Thursday to Sunday and aims to showcase and foster comedic talent with screenings, panel discussions, a screenwriting competition, nightly parties and a closing awards ceremony.
Highlights from this year's schedule include Thursday's celebrity short film block with work by Margaret Cho, Michael Cera and David Alan Grier; a discussion Friday with screenwriter Buck Henry ("The Graduate," "Catch-22"); and a panel Saturday titled "Famous People Talking About S&*%." Daily screenings will be held at the Downtown Independent theater, and buses will shuttle attendees to nighttime events at venues such as the Conga Room, the Kyoto Grand Hotel and Exchange L.A.
Williams, a comedy veteran who has written for "Malcolm in the Middle," acted on "Boston Legal" and done voice work on "The Boondocks," said one of the festival's initial goals was to encourage aspiring actors and comedians to create short films they could use as calling cards to show their skills. The festival's timing has also proved fortuitous as the popularity of short videos on the Web has exploded in recent years.
"Now there are so many short-form comedy content providers on the Internet," Williams said, citing websites such as Fremantle Media's Atomic Wedgie, Yahoo Screen, and Funny or Die (a festival sponsor). "Everybody's looking for producers and writers and people who can make stuff really funny, really well and really fast."
Past festival winners have gone on to work for companies such as Fremantle, Disney and CTV, Williams said.
Williams and Roshar's other goal for the festival is to entertain audiences, and one of the benefits of screening shorts, according to Williams, is that viewers are bound to see something they like.
"I guarantee you, you're going to laugh," he said, "or I'm going to let you punch me in the throat. One or the other. It's a punch-in-the-throat guarantee I'm offering."
-- Oliver Gettell
Photo: Attendees at the 2011 L.A. Comedy Shorts Film Festival. Credit: L.A. Comedy Shorts