TJFF 2014: Comedy Warriors: Healing Through Humor

The 22nd Toronto Jewish Film Festival came to a close on Sunday (May 11) after a successful 11-day run, featuring a wide variety of films that provide a diverse look at Jewish identity within the global perspective. One film which was extremely well-received at its Thursday night screening was the documentary Comedy Warriors: Healing Through Humor by director John Wager. The film follows five courageous US veterans who were severely wounded in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and chronicles their journeys as they enter into the world of stand-up comedy as a part of the Comedy Warriors program. They are then teamed up with professional comedians and comedy writers in order to develop and refine their acts before being given an opportunity to perform at a famous comedy club in LA.

Comedy Warriors is an inspiring story of brave individuals rising above the darkness in their own lives in order to share the healing power of laughter with the world.  As several of the celebrity coaches point out in this film, the seeds of tragedy can work to produce some truly inspired comedy – a notion that is fully embraced by these five aspiring comedians, each of whom describes their reliance on humor as a means of coping with the trauma of their post-war lives, as well as their eventual decision to take it a step further and share that gift with others. For some of them, comedy is a way to inspire people and honor the memory of fellow soldiers who never made it home, while others simply love the feeling they get when a joke ignites in front of a packed crowd.  Regardless of their motivations to step onto the stage, each of these five Comedy Warriors earns their title by delivering big laughs in their final performances, showcasing their natural talents as well as their very real potential for future success in the industry.

This doc also features an impressive roster of professional A-List comedians and comedy writers who helped bring the program to life, including Lewis Black, Zach Galifianakis, B.J. Novak and Bob Saget, among others. Their advice and creative criticism offers revealing truths about what it takes to succeed in the world of stand-up, such as the development of a refined stage presence that plays to one’s strengths, without feeling forced or fabricated. All of the coaches were genuinely impressed with the five war veterans, who were able to jump right in and hold their own despite minimal experience – which is especially surprising when you consider the lengthy development process that most comedians go through when starting out. And the fact that two of the five stars have gone on to work as professional stand-up comedians since shooting the film is a testament not only to the success of this great program, but also to the power of humor to help mend even the deepest of wounds.

Comedian Joe Kashnow and Producer Ray Reo were also in attendance at Thursday’s screening, providing a brief intro as well as a fantastic Q&A following the film.

Comedy Warriors will screen for a second time at 9:30pm on Saturday, May 10th at Famous Players Canada Square Cinemas.

Comedians Joe Kashnow and Bobby Henline will also be performing their stand-up routines this Sunday, May 11th at the Yuk Yuk’s comedy club in Toronto.

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Mark D'Amico

Mark D'Amico

Film Editor and Writer at Addicted
Mark is a lover of film, television and literature, with a particular passion for all things horror. Born on the 31st of October, he was conditioned at an early age to perceive zombies, vampires and masked lunatics as signs of forthcoming presents and candy. He also has several years of experience working in the film, television and advertising industries, both on set in the camera department, and in the harrowing world of post-production.
Mark D'Amico

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