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i used to be funny comedy bar still

In 'I Used to Be Funny,' Canada's Favorite Funny People Turn Trauma into Mystery

By Lindsay Traves | Film | June 5, 2024 |

By Lindsay Traves | Film | June 5, 2024 |

i used to be funny comedy bar still

Funny people being sad seems like an interesting premise with the sort of juxtaposition your creative writing teacher would dream of. But truth is, even funny people are susceptible to the horrors of the world, and like individuals themselves, some turn it into laughs, and they all tackle it differently. I Used to be Funny focuses on this journey for one comedian struggling to take on a new level of trauma and see if she can still tell a joke.

Rachel Sennott leads as the titular “I,” a comedian named Sam who has been kicked off of her game due to an unnamed traumatic experience. Brooke (Olga Petsa), her former charge, has been missing for four days and Sam is one of the last people who saw the lost teen who was angry, drunk, and accusing Sam of being a liar. Much of the story is filled in via flashback, us witnessing Sam sleepwalking through a grey version of her former life interspliced with dramatic flashbacks to her getting a job as a nanny for a young girl with an ill mom and the whole experience slowly unraveling. The event that broke Sam is hinted at, the film slowly catching the audience up to speed with what led Sam to being an out-of-work standup barely held together by her friends.

The most perplexing part of the film is the choice to treat the world-shattering event as a mystery box. The prime timeline paired with flashbacks serves as a somewhat strong narrative choice that allows us to meet Sam during her aftermath. But by building up to the present day, it turns an upsetting experience into a hidden twist, leaving the viewer to guess what might have happened and then being “rewarded’ with an uncomfortable scene treated like a climax. It doesn’t appear to be a statement on the truth not mattering since it’s the action that makes the breakdown of the relationship between Brooke and Sam happen, so the hidden nature feels uncomfortable.

There’s a distinct lack of comedy in this story of a comedian. The flashbacks are marked with somber music and a shaky appearance, so even times of lightness are painted as depressing memories instead of tender moments. Sennott’s natural charm and hilarious blasé tone bring some levity, but the movie seems built around the trauma that paints Sam’s experiences as gloomy. And to her, they probably are, even the most fun times she had with Brooke, which all led up to it falling apart, like hints or warnings that a victim might fester in.

Once the viewer is up to speed, the film allows us to revel in the aftermath of Sam’s experience. Crimes have collateral damage, reporting crimes has a ripple effect, and the end of one thing is the beginning of another. There’s even the trial scene (which contains what appears to be a choice to cast an actor to play the defense lawyer who looks a lot like Marie Henein) which contrasts the celebratory success of a guilty verdict as against the still broken Sam and Brooke we’re following thereafter. I Used to Be Funny is at its best when it’s a story of Sam’s healing, a process that’s not simple nor linear and that happens differently for each individual. While Sam is the central focus, Brooke, her aunt, Sam’s friends, and ex boyfriend are all dealing with varying levels of hurt.

Sam’s found family might not be center of focus but certainly plays a role. Writer and director, Aly Pankiw, set her feature debut (her experience mostly in television) in Toronto’s comedy scene and brushes it with the paint of the millennial experience of collections of friends standing in for families and significant others. Her cast, made up of some Canadian comedy faves like Ennis Esmer and Sabrina Jalees (also our American brother, Caleb Hearon) build a Funny People style gaggle of sad warmth emanating from comedy pals.

I Used to be Funny is an interesting exploration of trauma existing for a person whose identity is about making people laugh. It tackles the complex nature of healing just does so in ways that treat an ordeal as a twist which lets out some of the warm air in favor of a storytelling style.

I Used to Be Funny hits select theaters June 7, 2024 and digital June 18, 2024.