It Burns When I Laugh

It Burns When I Laugh


Filmmaker Cheryl Larsen is doing a documentary on stand-up comedy and the life of an average comic on the road. Her subject is Rich Burns, a comedy purist, who just wants t make people laugh, hone his craft and possible “make it” one day doing what he loves. Cheryl travels, on the road, through lowly one-nighters and comedy clubs, with Rich and opening act Sean Payne. Sean has the exact opposite approach to the art of stand-up. He only wants the fame and fortune and will do whatever it takes to get there, including changing his act, every day, to fit whatever is “in” at the time. Through their travels and through interviews with family (like Rich’s eccentric Uncle Raymond)

Cheryl’s goal is to get into a comedian’s head to find out why they do comedy, what makes them endure the hardships of the road and what keeps them going. Is it the insecurities of these former nerds and their goal to get back at the society that rejected them? Is it the constant accolades from drunken rednecks? Is it the women that they could never get normally; as Sean calls them, the “Road Pudding”? Or could it be that they just love being on stage?

In the first segment the three travel hours upon hours over winding mountain roads, most of the time not sure if they are lost in the movie Deliverance, to get to their destinationÅ Buddy’s Tavern. Buddy’s is a small redneck bar in Central Valley California that does comedy one night a weekÅ The One-nighter. Upon entering this “establishment” they are immediately informed by the towering, shaved headed owner, Buddy, that the show has been cancelled, due to the previous week’s comedian’s comments about Big Lenny’s mother (Big Lenny being one of Buddy’s better patrons). After hearing Buddy’s diatribe about comedians and their attitudes, they are finally allowed to stay at Buddy’s Motel down the road for the night. Our trip through one-nighter hell ends in an argument as Sean tries to convince Rich that since they are both heterosexual, there is no reason he can’t sleep naked in their shared bed.

Segment two takes us to San Jose California and Roosters Comedy Club. Ahh, civilization; a full-time comedy club that treats you right, right? Well, if you consider a dirty, trashed condo where the virginity of the sofa is in question, civilized. At Rooster’s we get a feel for what small time fame is like. Every audience member seems to have a story to relate to or a joke to tell; from the local drunk who insists on explaining everything in his life in full detail, to the man who bums a dollar off Rich to use for the cover charge. Sean, in his attempts to be the big shot who gets all the women, ends up having sexual relations with a transvestite stripper and has now convinced himself that he must always ask a person their gender upon meeting. This philosophy, of course causes him trouble later that week at the local dance club. The week ends with Sean spending his life savings on a new prop comedy act, only to have the trunk full of props stolen while at breakfast. Rich’s news isn’t all that great either. He just got turned down for a new sit-com because his style of comedy is “out” and impressionists are “in”. This, however, gives Sean a new idea.

Segment three takes us to Jarrod’s LAFF-A-TERIA in Sacramento California. Jarrod is an egotistical, new age man with very specific ideas about comedy. He believes comedy is not about humor, but rather the comedian’s message to “his people”. Jarrod insists that all his headliners have a “message”. At Jarrod’s club, Rich and Sean encounter Todd Adams, a local comic who is not very funny, but likes to talk big. He is allowed to do a guest set and bombs horribly, yet does not realize it. In fact, in his words, “I was killing up there”. He has to be literally dragged off the stage. We also get to meet the dysfunctional group that works at the LAFF-A-TERIA, like Ron Nichols. Ron has been the bartender for fourteen years. Although he believes he is funny enough to be a comic, he does not like comics. Ron thinks they don’t tip him well enough and feels that if it weren’t for him making some strong “comedy juice” no one would be laughing at their jokes. Julie is the ditzy waitress who never passes up the chance to sleep with any willing comic. She believes if they become famous, they come back for her. In the meantime she would like to be a bartender or a dancer, because she’s “really creative”. Bill Hilarity, the house emcee and cook, for over ten years, is a devout Jarrod disciple, hanging on Jarrod’s every word. Although his act seldom gets laughs, it’s okay with Bill because as Jarrod says, “comedy is not about laughter”. Unfortunately Jarrod’s advice hasn’t got Bill past flipping burgers and plunging toilets. Rich decides to come up with a ridiculous message to appease Jarrod’s request. His idea is that if he comes up with something so ludicrous and cheerleader like, Jarrod will see the absurdity of this request, The plan backfires, however, as Jarrod is deeply moved and is now convinced Rich (as well as himself) is brilliant. Later in the week, Sean meets Dre Simms, the host of “Hip Hop Comedy Showcase”. He convinces Dre to give him an audition for the all black comedy show, insisting that he can do “black comedy from a white perspective”.

The final segment follow up with our sub-heroes six months later. Rich is gearing up for his first National TV spot on the late night show “The Moe Show”. Sean is also gearing up for his first TV appearance on “Hip Hop Comedy Showcase”. Will their TV appearances bring them fame and fortune or will they be chased off the stage by angry audience members? What will prevail; Rich’s “be true to your craft” approach or Sean’s “this is what’s hot now” approach?

Maybe there is no formula. Maybe it’s all luck an who you know. Either way, one thing you can count on; “It Burns When I Laugh”, is a hilarious and sometimes dark look at life on the road for an average stand-up comedian trying to “make it”. It is also a fine example of what may be the world’s most guerrilla film ever made. Whether you’re a fan of stand-up comedy, mock-docs or just plain funny films, “It Burns When I Laugh” has “cult classic” all over it.

 A&E Review



Written & Directed by
Ian Harris

Produced by
Alwen Laguatan & Ian Harris

Director of Photography
Emerson Murray

Edited by
Pete Tapia

Sound Design & Music by
Jon Klok


Chris Valenti – rich burns
Ian Harris – sean payne
Hope Royaltey – cheryl larsen
Tom McGillen – uncle raymond
Michael Pace – lance manshaft
Stephen B. – jarrod moss
Mickey Joseph – ron nichols
Dan Gabriel – todd adams
Robert Duchaine – the drunk
Chard Hogan – the bum
Eric Johansen – the doorman
Babbette Burrcaw – dance club bartender
Heather Hardy – pretty girl
Michael Mancini – cop
Tree – Buddy
Kay Frasier – lady at buddy’s
Heather Woodhul – julie stephani
Jeaninne Hardy – alyssa
Jason Resler – man in line
Christine Resler – woman in line
Conor Kellicut – the heckler
Ngaio Bealum – dre simms
Gabriel Daini – stoner
Dave DeYoung – bill hilarity
Brian Allen – angry patron
Moe Better Mann – himself