By Mark Saldana
My final interview for this year’s Austin Festival was a genuine treat. Prior to the last AFF screening of their film, I sat down with directors Robert Campos, Donna LoCicero, and professional comedian Will Durst of the documentary 3 Still Standing. Their film tells the history of the comedy club scene in San Francisco during the 1980s and focuses on three stand-up comedians (Durst, Johnny Steele, Larry “Bubbles” Brown) who continue to toil in what’s left of the comedy scene in the U.S. whereas others who began in that scene (Robin Williams, Dana Carvey, Rob Schneider) went on to achieve greater success in television and movies. I am grateful that these lovely people agreed to let me interview them prior to seeing their film, as most publicists and filmmakers require screening films prior to interviews. Granted, it does usually help greatly; however, in this case, having a somewhat general understanding of the film’s subject matter was enough for me to come up with several questions for these talented and intelligent people.
Mark: (To the filmmakers) What drove you to make this film?
Robert Campos: We’re big fans of comedy. I’ve always loved the magic of comedy–the people who could construct something like that, that gives you that instant miracle that erupts in laughter. These guys in the ’80s were in these fairly intimate venues and were doing the stuff we heard in record albums during the ’70s: Richard Pryor, George Carlin…
Donna LoCicero: It was the most fun you could have on a night out. I had a friend who got a job as a manager at one of the main comedy clubs in town (San Francisco). I was visiting him, not looking for comedy, but realized that this was great–the best time.
Mark: (To the filmakers) Besides your love for Will, Johnny, and Larry, who are some of your favorite comedians?
Donna: Richard Pryor, George Carlin
Robert: Louis C.K. is great now. When we interviewed Robin (Williams), he told us about Jeff Bolt who does this bit with Bobby the Puppet. Dana Carvey was always so much fun to see.
Mark: (To Will Durst) Who are some of your favorites?
Will Durst: Anybody who has the desire to get up there and then actually can make people laugh. Everyone’s different. I like the olden-timey guys we used to see on the Carson show like Alan King, a guy named Johnny Dark who was kind of a contemporary Letterman. The guys you’d see on the afternoon talk shows like Merv Griffin and Mike Douglas.
Mark: (To everyone) How do you think comedy has changed since the 1980s?
Will: The audience has changed. They have the attention span of high-speed lint! Comedy is almost a comfort zone, although more comics are using audio-visuals in their acts. It’s a little more sophisticated because people are exposed to everything twenty-four hours a day. Politics doesn’t interest people anymore. When I first started, everyone was political because, (in a Dennis Hopper-like voice) “We ended the war, man!” Now, everyone hates everyone.
Robert: We have gone from being connected to an individual voice, and what that voice comes up with from their own reserve of ideas, to creating these sort of uber personalities on television. There are hundreds of personalities behind that person or behind that reporter and I think that skews your sense of things because you’re waiting for something that’s really, really poppy. Something is lost in that shift. Now there is a mass of comedy out there, but it feels like widgets on a line.
Mark: (To Robert & Donna) So far you have only done documentaries. Are you at all interested in working on narrative feature films?
Donna: We’ve been kicking around some ideas. We’ve been married for twenty years and one of the things we can’t help doing is, at night over a glass of wine, we kick around ideas.
Robert: I grew up loving movies and thinking that I would love to make movies, but the real fun for us is being on your edges every moment. Where are we going? What are we going to do next? What are we going to shoot? Filming on even the smaller feature films is like glacial movement of setting up these shots of imitating reality.
Donna: One of the things we fell into five years ago is doing a lot of reenactments for the Discovery Channel. We find that documentary filmmaking is so much more interesting than movie making. Movie making is about getting the details right and it gets boring, whereas in a documentary, you’re a fly on the wall. You’re trying to capture something.
Will: They learned to put on invisibility cloaks. Knowing that the camera is there changes what happens. They (Robert and Donna) can get so far back and become part of the scenery that they eventually get ninety-five or ninety-eight percent reality.
Mark: (To Will) Would you call your love for comedy still romantic, or is it like any relationship or marriage where you have to really work at keeping that love alive?
Will: You’ve got to keep it fresh for yourself. There is the constant retooling and the love/hate of having to write new material. Then there’s the beauty when it works.
Mark: Do you have any words of wisdom for people interested in pursuing a career in stand-up comedy?
Will: Come from a rich family. That helps! Just do it anywhere and everywhere. All of the professional comedians told me the same advice my dad had given me! It was my (expletive) dad’s advice! “Just do it. Just keep doing it.” No! That’s what my dad said! He can’t be right! (Laughs) Just do it and keep focused.
I found 3 Still Standing to be a fascinating and entertaining documentary. I wish Robert, Donna, Will, Johnny, and Larry much success with this great film and in their future endeavors. I want to thank them for graciously taking the time for speaking with me and for making me smile and laugh throughout our interview.