There’s a quote attributed to Lenny Bruce: “The only honest art form is laughter, comedy. You can’t fake it.”
Chris Jordan Lee can relate. He’s experienced the uncomfortable silence that follows a joke that falls flat. He’s heard what it sounds like when someone forces a chuckle.
“Comedy is incredible subjective, which we learned very, very painfully throughout this experience,” says Lee.
“When you are doing a drama, sci-fi and thriller, it’s very easy to please the audience. Everyone likes it when Bruce Willis dies at the end. With a comedy, there are so many hit and misses.”
Lee never expected an idea about something that often makes people cringe would land him a spot in one of the most coveted contests for aspiring B.C. filmmakers.
Manstruation, a short film written by Lee and actor Ryan Haneman, is one of six films that won the Crazy8s competition, which requires contestants to shoot and edit a movie in eight days.
“I can’t believe they went for it,” he says in disbelief.
Manstruation, as the name would suggest, is an unapologetic role-reversal comedy, or as Lee puts it, “a 10-minute penis joke.”
A quirk of evolution has caused men to begin having periods, and the film’s protagonist Peter cannot believe his misfortune.
While trying to devise the perfect male hygiene product, Peter must simultaneously deal with unsympathetic doctors, a heartless girlfriend and overly emotional buddies.
“The point of the movie is to make fun of men and their refusal to talk about the issue,” says Lee.
“This is a day in the life of a man on the first day of his period.”
Haneman met Lee while they were both working as actors on a local independent feature film called A LARPER’s Love Story, directed by Bruce Burnett.
After discovering their shared love of comedy, the pair developed a comedy television series called Unreeled, about a down-on-his-luck hockey player.
Lee said they tried to pitch Unreeled to the Comedy Network last year, but were told they didn’t have enough directorial or writing experience on their résumés.
Crazy8s, a contest now in its 14th year, seemed like the perfect place to gain recognition.
The industry regards the contest as one of the best ways to launch a film career.
Manstruation grew out of a short story Lee crafted at Douglas College when tasked with writing “outside his comfort zone.”
While other students chose ninjas and superheroes, Lee wrote about something he really knew nothing about: menstruation.
He never imagined he would eventually play the lead.
“We wrote in some fairly uncomfortable semi-nude scenes,” Lee says with a laugh.
Once he got in front of the camera, Lee embraced being Peter.
“I don’t regret it at all. I just feel bad for the woman who had to play the doctor in the movie,” he says.
Originally from Ottawa, Haneman moved to Vancouver in 2001 to pursue an acting career.
He studied at the Yaletown Actor’s Lab, founded by David Palffy, and went on to appear in commercials and independent features, including Road to Victory, directed by Mike Reilly, and When Life Was Good, directed by Terry Miles.
He also performed as a stand-up comic, and with Tara Browne and JP McGlynn formed the comedy sketch troupe ‘Damen & Herren’ in Vancouver.
Manstruation is his first foray into directing.
For Lee, being directed by a friend and writing partner made filming much easier, although there were times when he wanted to slap Haneman.
The rest of the cast was also made up of friends.
“It made it way easier for [Haneman] to be brutally honest with us,” says Lee. Most recently, Lee played a supporting role in Tom Raycove’s TOXIN 3D, an IndustryWorks Pictures release about a zombie infestation.
Manstruation is up against Braindamage, sci-fi flick set in a dystopian near-future; In The Deep, a film about dying; Stewing, a dark comedy revenge action movie about a dog-napping; Under The Bridge of Fear, a film noir and When I Saw You, a playful riff on the value of human connection.
Lee’s winning formula is to write what he thinks is funny.
“You can’t write a comedy to please people. So the important thing with a comedy is to write what you think is funny,” he says.
“Hopefully more than 10 people in the audience laugh and then you have this chain reaction.
It’s always the energy in the theatre and room that gets you laughing at jokes.”
The team behind Manstruation hope that Saturday’s Crazy8’s gala will be stepping stone to greatness or at the very least – a paying gig.
The best case scenario is someone saying we need a writer for this show to write gags,” says Lee.
“I am hoping someone somewhere will hire me for some cash and I can pay back all the people I owe money to.”
The Crazy8 gala takes place Saturday, Feb. 23 at the Centre for Performing Arts in Vancouver, with an after party following at the Vancouver Art Gallery. For tickets, visit www.crazy8s.cc.