“We all come from a Mormon background, which is probably the last place people would look for comedians,” utters a Studio-C cast member in the trailer for Juliet Werner’s new documentary, The Laughter Life. The film explores the complex relationship between self-effacing joking within Mormonism and respect for the culture and religion itself, and Studio C‘s cast members clearly feel they play an important role in representing the Church, albeit in an ostensibly unconventional way.
Studio C, produced by LDS Church-owned BYUtv, is a popular sketch comedy program that has played a pivotal role in moving BYUtv away from Mormon-specific content into broader family-appropriate fare. It’s also funnier than Brian Regan. Because Mormons are, for some reason, obsessed with Brian Regan. (Why can’t Jim Gaffigan get a fair shake?!)
In the documentary, cast members discuss the dangers of the cultural vacuum created when religious or cultural homogeneity thrives in a particular area. As writer and cast member Jason Gray puts it, the vacuum does result in behavior that is “kinda ridiculous” and worth laughing about, even down to audience members being concerned when Gray, who is married, kisses fellow actor Mallory Everton during a skit (and with his wife’s approval). Also, Matt Meese, header writer and cast member, ponders the slippery slope of defining a miracle as a “magic trick” for the sake of a skit. Only in Provo.
Werner, who is not LDS, described coming across Studio C as similar to discovering a new band. The allure of a show produced in Provo and not New York or Los Angeles or Chicago was appealing to her, as she wanted to find out if there were interesting differences.
As a producer on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, she works regularly with sometimes controversial content (or at the very least not easily branded as “family friendly”), but she stresses that her writer’s room isn’t all that different from Studio C‘s. In an email exchange with This Week in Mormons, she discusses the similarities, but also the significant challenges:
In some superficial ways, they’re identical. Laptops, index cards, couches, snacks. And the goal is the same: to riff until the funniest incarnation of the joke has been discovered. Of course, Studio C’s material is clean, and a lot of The Laughter Life focuses on how challenging it can be to make a show that is both clean and clever. The cast is committed to making a show the entire family can watch together and this film is the only documentary that gives audiences a glimpse at how they manage to pull it off week after week.
This amounts to a work that gives Studio C fans an inside look at producing not just comedy, but Mormon-appropriate comedy aimed at the mainstream. That’s a tough nut to crack, but it appears Studio C is well on its way, and based on the trailer, The Laughter Life is a compelling look behind the curtain. You won’t see SNL starting off with a prayer.
Not being LDS, Werner is thankful for how much she learned about Mormon culture through making the film. She stresses that part of what initially put Studio C on the map with families was its time slot—during Family Home Evening. That’s a consideration she never has as a producer of a non-religious program. And for bonus Mormon exposure (someone please use that as a Northern Exposure-based skit), President Uchtdorf came by the set during Werner’s week with the cast. She described the cast’s reaction to having a member of the First Presidency observe its work as “a thrilling moment.”
The Laughter Life has screened at festivals since last fall, but a special showing will be held during the Dances with Films festival on Saturday, June 10 at 12:30 PM at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Los Angeles. (That’s the one with the handprints.) You can pick up tickets for the whole thing for $15 here. So if you’re in or near LA, spend 76 minutes watching a compelling, family friendly documentary about Mormon comedy, culture, and religion.
View the trailer here:
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