Monday, October 29, 2018

Interview with Filmmaker Michael Alexander

Filmmaker Michael Alexander
"Laugh Till You’re Winded" is a new in-depth, full length documentary that goes deep into Chicago’s stand up scene - from its boom in the 80’s - to the bust in the late 90's - and to its current resurgence.

Directed by Michael Alexander, the documentary takes viewers behind the scenes in candid interviews with Hannibal Buress, Jeff Garlin, Deon Cole, Judy Tenuta, Tom Dreesen, Jimmy Pardo, Kyle Kinane, Lil Rel, Chris Redd, Beth Stelling and many more monster comedians that cut their teeth in the Chicago scene.

Alexander has a long 33 year history as both a stand-up comedian and a comedy writer. His credits include writing for The Arsenio Hall Show, the Tonight show with Jay Leno, a freelance writer for George Lopez and has opened for Smoky Robinson and Gladys Knight (among others). The film will have it's exclusive premier this Monday Nov 5th.

Michael took some time out of his schedule to answer a few questions about the making of this ground breaking film.

Comedy of Chicago
For those who don't know, what is your background in stand up comedy?

Interviewing Hannibal Buress
Michael Alexander
I started performing in 1985. My first time on stage was at the Comedy Cottage in Rosemont IL, a club featured in my documentary, Laugh Till You’re Winded.

I credit Carl LaBove, who was Sam Kinison’s best friend, with igniting my comedic passion. I was standing in line at The Comedy Store and Carl complimented me on my leather coat. After talking for a while, he invited me to hangout. I did…for an entire weekend! I was hooked and made a living performing stand-up for 15 years. These days, I concentrate on comedic writing, teaching and film-making.

Why did you want to make a documentary Film about the Chicago comedy scene?

Michael and Kyle Kinane
I’ve felt for a very long time that the Chicago stand-up scene, past and present, has been largely ignored and that it was time this ended. Chicago has given rise to many writers, directors and producers who have shaped the national comedy scene.

You did most of the filming & sound for this project yourself - do you have a back ground in film-making?

I am self-taught. My first project was a comedy short on prescription drugs, called Globolexpill, which can be seen on YouTube, that was the first project, I did. Last year I produced a shot film celebrating Zanies Comedy Club’s 40th Anniversary.
A lot of famous comedians are in this film - plus you had some big names such as Hannibal Buress perform in a fundraiser for the project - how did you manage get them to participate?

It’s a very tricky thing asking high-profile and famous people for favors.
First they have to believe in the project. Which they obviously did.

Second, you need to be all in financially, otherwise they won’t take you seriously. Hannibal knew I ran out of cash to finish editing the film. He also knew I sank every penny I had into the project and bootstrapped the entire thing except for $1500 generously donated to me from individual supporters.

Lots of celebrities forget where they got their start but Hannibal is very grounded and I believe grateful for the position he’s in and wants to give back. From what I see he’s very humble and can even be seen at many of the open mics in the city. In my opinion he is one of the best comedians of all time.

What’s the main takeaway you want audience members to come away with after watching this film?

That stand-up comedy in Chicago has had a rich and sometimes troubled history and still struggles with some of the same issues. The achievements of Chicago comedic talent were profound. The social disparities, namely race and gender, had (and continue to have) polarizing effects on the stand-up scene.
In your opinion - what makes the Chicago scene so special and why is it still relevant to the national scene to this day?

I’d say what separates Chicago from LA and NY is that people here do it for the love of comedy first, being discovered second. I say this because let’s face it, no one is performing day in and day out at The Heartland Café, Coles, or in the many open mic and showcase venues for the sake of getting discovered. They do it because they love it. Like I do.
From what we seen from the trailer - it looks pretty amazing - Super excited to see this film on Monday Nov 5th at Zanies.

James Kamp