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Cinequest Film Review: All Joking Aside (2020)

All Joking Aside (2020) is a feature-length comedy-drama that had one weekend shown at the 2020 Cinequest Film Festival. The first feature-length film for director Shannon Kohli (whose previous directorial work includes episodes of Supergirl, Shadowhunters and Netflix’s You), this film stars Raylene Harewood and Brian Markinson. Charlene (Harewood) plans to make it big as a stand-up comedian in New York when she starts to learn from Bob (Markinson), a retired comic who heckled her off on her first performance.

Shannon Kohli proves here what an incredible director she is as this film is superb in every technical aspect. I am in awe os this screenplay, simply presented and yet really witty and clever. For a film that focuses on stand-up and structuring a set, Kohli manages to perfectly structure the film with excellent pace. This entire film hangs on the balance of the writing, because if the writing is off on the jokes or tone it could go messy at any moment. However, the jokes here are extremely clever and I found myself laughing throughout a majority of this film.

As a film with stand-up comics, it points out the importance of performances and selling a story. That is exactly what these actors do in this film as every single cast member gives a superb performance. Raylene Harewood is simply a star here and it is hard to look away from her when she is on stage giving a performance. Brian Markinson is also excellent, having to balance so many different layers and slowly peel away at every one of them. These characters do not feel stereotyped, they feel authentic.

Not only do the characters feel authentic, but the world around them does as well. For an independent film, the production value is so brilliantly done to fully envision the world of comedy. It is not presented as cheerful and positivity, there are the lows that come with it. The comedy scenery feels gritty and dark, as they would be in New York. Whilst I can see that a lot of the club sequences may have been filmed at the same place despite different locations, it is more a testament how they went about changing specific aspects to take the audience to a new place, using lighting and different props to help bring this out.

There are several subplots that this film has, which is absolutely necessary to turn this film into one that needs a feature-length runtime. These subplots were incredibly well realised, giving more chance to let the characters grow as well as making commentary on pursuing a career in stand-up comedy. Bob’s subplot, involving his ex-wife and the struggles he had with his relationship, help establish a darker tone to the movie which only helps the pacing and overall tone when light relief comes in the humour. The film never gets too overloaded with humour and laughs, and yet it never truly swallows you into the darkness. Shannon Kohli understands here the importance of balance between plots, tone and focuses deeply on that in her screenplay.
The editing is extremely sharp, especially during the middle section when we are following Bob and Charlene on their time together and seeing Charlene progress on her journey. There is one sequence in particular that uses the cuts to show Bob teaching her something and then her using that tip in her performance. Not only does it make the jokes land even harder, especially when she is using insults to involve the audience, but it shows the progression instead of her simply telling him what she was doing and leaving the audience to figure out how exactly she is improving.
What I appreciate about the themes and message of this film was the message it was sending out to the audience. With a female lead and a female director, the message is very clear. In the director’s statement for this film, Kohli makes it clear to point out that only ten percent of stand-up comics are women and that they are still negatively perceived. This film is focused on a woman trying to get her voice heard and show that she can be funny, and it works incredibly well. This film doesn’t try to bash men’s humour or their pathways, but simply says that girls can be given the same opportunity to and this theme was handled maturely whilst still being entertaining to watch.

This film completely exceeded my expectations, especially considering the small budget for the film. I completely fell in love with the story, the characters and the world felt so grounded and real. It truly felt like the team cared about this project and it is even more impressive to see that this is Shannon Kohli’s first time directing a feature-length film. Seriously, check this one out whenever you can because this may be the best new release that I see in the next few months.


Had you heard of All Joking Aside before this review? Are you now looking forward to checking this release out? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section and keep an eye out for updates on the film’s release over on their official website:

Keep an eye on the Cinequest festival here:

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