The Opening Act: Stand-Up Comedy Isn’t Easy

Jimmy O. Yang as Will O’Brien in the comedy THE OPENING ACT, a RLJE Films release. Courtesy of RLJE Films.

The Opening Act is a fictional account depicting the harsh realties that come with trying to make it in the business as a stand-up comedian.

Writer-director Steve Byrne injects some of his own real-life experiences into the script.  Byrne has been in the industry for two decades so basically, he’s calling friends and casting them in the film.  This aspect certainly shows through in the production.  It honestly feels like one agrees to this kind of film because it’s a fun time.  They aren’t doing it for the paycheck because you don’t make money with independent films.  Every now and then, a fluke indie becomes a major blockbuster but those films are few and far between.

There are a few films that capture what it means to be a comedian let alone a stand-up comedian.  A recent film coming to mind is Judd Apatow’s Funny People.  Okay, so it was over a decade ago–not that you were counting.  Nearly thirty years ago, you had Mr. Saturday Night in which Billy Crystal starred, co-wrote, and directed.  Crystal’s directorial debut wasn’t received so well.  For what it’s worth, though, both of these films see comedians at a later stage in their career.

Unlike those two films. Byrne captures the life of a comedian as they are starting to break into the industry.  All those open mic nights and waiting to know if you’ll be going up next or never.  You have to know the ins and out of the industry in order to write this kind of film.  Forget researching comedy because you need the lived experiences that are necessary to tell the story.

Basically, this film is about Will Chu (Jimmy O. Yang).  He’s working a dead-end job and wants to be a stand-up comedian.  Chu has been comedians perform since he was a child.  Does he have what it takes?  I’d say so but it takes a strong work ethic in order to make it in stand-up comedy.  He finally realizes his dream when he gets to open for Billy G (Cedric The Entertainer).   What happens to him then?  You’ll just have to wait and see!

There comes a time in every comedian’s life when their parents tell them they’ll never make it in comedy.  Maybe that’s just me since I’ll never fulfill the Jewish obligation of becoming a lawyer or doctor.  I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m a letdown in my parents’ eyes.  But in all seriousness, there was a time in my life when I planned to become a stand-up comedian but this was a few weeks before discovering The Second City in 2003.  The improv bug bit and the rest is history–including hosting a late night comedy show on campus.  And then later on down the road, things change and I weirdly became a film critic.  That’s not to say that I won’t inject comedy into into film reviews because there’s no shortage of witty thoughts when it comes to some films.

If we’re going to discuss stand-up comedy, we can’t ignore comedy’s history of toxic masculinity.  I mean, look at the film’s casting with the inclusion of Bill Burr.  Burr has a history of both homophobia and transphobia in his comedy including the recent Saturday Night Live opening monologue.  Of course, Burr makes a reference to The Empire Strikes Back!  He also showed up recently in an episode of The Mandalorian.  Please stop me before I mention that Gina Carano appeared in the same episode.  But enough about The Mandalorian.

Only a veteran comedian could make The Opening Act a reality.

Bonus Features

  • The Making of The Opening Act
  • Getting Started in Comedy
  • Extended Stand-up scenes with Jimmy O. Yang, Cedric The Entertainer, Whitney Cummings, and more

CAST: Jimmy O. Yang, Alex Moffat, Cedric The Entertainer, Neal Brennan, Debby Ryan, Ken Jeong, Bill Burr, Whitney Cummings, Jermaine Fowler, Russell Peters, Tom Segura, Iliza Shlesinger

RLJE Films released The Opening Act on October 15, 2020. The film is now available on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.