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Exclusive interview: Gary Anthony Williams talks L.A. Comedy Shorts Festival

Gary Anthony Williams with Lori Melton and Valerie Hulet McCarty at Kyoto Gardens rooftoop party for LA Comedy Shorts.
Gary Anthony Williams with Lori Melton and Valerie Hulet McCarty at Kyoto Gardens rooftoop party for LA Comedy Shorts.
Valerie Hulet McCarty for Lori Melton

The L.A. Comedy Shorts Film Festival proudly celebrates filmmakers with comedic vision and has been hailed as one of the Top 25 Film Festivals worth the entry fee by Moviemaker Magazine. After attending the fun, laughter-filled weekend it’s easy to see that the LACS founders and producers not only have a knack for recognizing the cream of their submission crop, but they are incredibly passionate about helping the talented filmmakers who submit those entries.

L.A. Comedy Shorts Film Festival Co-Founder/Artistic Director Gary Anthony Williams and writer Lori Melton at the 2014 LACS Film Festival Awards Gala at Exchange L.A. in Los Angeles
Photo by Valerie Hulet McCarty for Lori Melton

Furthermore, the easygoing atmosphere and warm family vibe at L.A. Comedy Shorts immediately makes it stand out as a one-of-a-kind festival with tremendous heart.

Co-founders and producers Gary Anthony Williams, Jeannie Roshar, Ryan Higman and Kelly Frazier are collectively the dedicated driving force behind the festival's beating heart in their tireless efforts to give LACS finalists an unforgettable weekend which also includes sage advice and Q & A with industry professionals like producers, actors, writers and more. Panels, parties and screenings from over 80 official film selections fill the jam-packed weekend which is capped off by a spectacular awards gala to announce the winners.

I had the distinct honor and pleasure of sitting down with LACS Co-Founder and Artistic Director Gary Anthony Williams (“Boston Legal,” “Malcolm in the Middle”) at the Kyoto Gardens rooftop party to discuss this year’s festivities in the following Examiner exclusive interview.

E: I’m here with the one and only Gary Anthony Williams. There’s no one in the world like you.

G: Well there is one other, my father who was a very wise man, thought to have a clone made of me. So there’s one other, but I have not met him yet. He said he put him on the other side of the world. Someday I’m sure our paths will cross, but for right now, as far as I know, I’m him.

E: What compelled you to start this wonderful festival? L.A. Comedy Shorts, is there anything better than this?

G: No there isn’t. Bacon lovers think bacon might be better. That’s silly--his is a no cholesterol festival. Jeannie Roshar and I had a short film called "I Own You." We’ve since sold that film idea to Lionsgate. But we had a short film playing at film festivals and we wanted to make a film festival that was only comedy shorts, where comedy’s really got a chance to breathe and live and win awards. So, seven years ago we thought let’s make that.

E: You guys have gotten great critical acclaim. You’re one of the top 10 festivals by the Brooks Institute. That’s pretty cool.

G: Yes and we hardly had to sleep with anyone to get that. We don’t mind sleeping around for a couple of awards. But that one came honestly.

E: You’re so funny. For up and coming comedians who are trying to break in, what do you think is the key ingredient for having that knack for making people laugh?

G: I’ve never thought of that. I guess I take life seriously. But I don’t think I take anything too serious. I make sure my bills are paid and my child is happy. I really don’t know the answer to that question. I will say this. I enjoy life and I definitely enjoy what I do. I come from a huge family so I enjoy being around people and I like to do things that make me happy.

E: By founding this festival – you, Jeannie and Ryan, you guys are sort of paying it forward.

G: No doubt. We really did set out to make a festival that we would have wanted had we started doing this and try to make some contacts for the winners and even the people who aren’t winners that we really admire and respect their work. In fact, it’s gives people a little head start that we wish we had had and that now we can kind of afford to make some connections and let other people have them.

E: There were some awesome films this year. How hard was it to make those selections?

G: It’s very difficult; we get in scriptwriting competition too so we get in about 2,000 films and scripts. It’s very difficult. We start August or September and we watch films every single night, usually seven nights a week until we narrow down what we consider to be the best of the best of the best. There are films that we go, “Aw, it’s just so borderline that don’t make it and some that just crack us up so hard and we go, hope the audience will appreciate this and they certainly do. But it’s tough, at the end of the day, sitting in that crowd and watching the audience laugh at these films that we’ve been laughing at, it feels really good.

E: Tell me about your show, “The Black Version,” how does it feel that you’re sold out everywhere all the time?

G: It’s a very cool show. A guy named Jordan Black, a couple of years ago was doing some internet movies. He’s like, I wanna take typically white movies and do the black version of them. So we did a couple on the internet and then on day he calls and says hey look, I got a cast together. I wanna put a cast together. I wanna do this thing live, are you interested? And everybody said yes. It was me, Jordan Black who used to write for “Saturday Night Live,” Danielle Gaither and Phil Lamar who were on Mad TV, C.J. Yarborough who had done “Reno 911” and Karen Moriyama who’s been in tons and tons of things including “Pulp Fiction.” She directs it, an all-black cast and it’s fantastic. The most fun we could have on stage.

E: You’re giving Weird Al the Commie Award at the award ceremony let’s talk about Weird Al for a minute.

G: As a little kid I loved singing and I loved making up funny songs and when Weird Al first came around, that was the guy and he still is the guy. He’s still working, still doing hilarious stuff and now younger audiences are finding him. So, when the opportunity came to hook up with him, it was unanimous. I can’t wait and pretty much every comedian who’s gonna be at the closing ceremony asked if they could introduce Weird Al because everybody owes their debt especially to the one who dabbles in music at all, everybody kind of does a nod to Weird Al.

E: Do you have a favorite performance of his?

G: The thing I love about Weird Al is that he really captures the style of the song, captures the voice of the song, he’s a great singer and great impressionist. So, it’s hard for me to pick just one of his things. On his Twitter it says, the “Eat It” guy. But all of his stuff is spot on. Perfect. I just admire the guy’s workmanship. It’s not a sloppy job that he does. He really does his research and makes it good.

E: I have to ask because “Boston Legal” is one of my favorite shows of all time, what is working with William Shatner like?

G: It’s great. I came in just as a guest star on there and they said it’s possibly recurring. I’d never seen the show and I said I’m not gonna do it and I went home to Atlanta for a few days and they said it’s a good show and I said no, I don’t wanna do it. I was talking to some friends and they said it’s a great show and it was in off season so I couldn’t find any of it on TV. Computers weren’t that huge yet so I couldn’t find it online. So finally I went in and said okay I’ll do it. So I went in the first day. James Spader was incredible. William Shatner was so incredible and supportive. It was fun and the makeup guy, his name is Steve Mack, after my first week, he said, you’re gonna be back on this show. It was only supposed to be one episode, maybe two. He said, you’re gonna be back and I said that’s ridiculous and he said I’ve been around, I know how this works. So my episode aired on a Tuesday and on Friday they called and offered me a regular job. It was so great. It was like family there. It was so wonderful.

Visit the L.A. Comedy Shorts Film Festival website and follow @lacomedyshorts (Gary Anthony Williams) and @Jeannie Roshar on Twitter.

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