The Joke Thief is the latest released feature in Frank D’Angelo’s rapid filmography. This time, the writer/director/actor takes a break from cops-and-robbers and, instead, delivers a subdued story about a flamed-out stand-up comic, Simon (played by D’Angelo), looking for purpose as he reflects on his past during a car ride through the streets of Toronto…erm…New York City.
The destination is a pivotal gig at a local comedy club, where a friend (resident D’Angelo player Tony Nardi) has twisted the arm of its owner (Daniel Baldwin) to give Simon a shot on stage. Playing devil’s advocate, Simon makes this particular set determine his fate – either this cable-broadcasted show will give him the inspiration to continue his career in stand-up, or it will convince him to give up and fall back working at a car dealership with his brother (Jason Blicker).
According to Linda Howard, a journalist for The Herald who covered D’Angelo’s movie in its production stages, The Joke Thief took a mere two days to make (not including a few weeks of pre-production). The Joke Thief certainly feels streamlined. Mostly taking place from inside of Simon’s Uber or inside of The Comedy Basement (aka. the D’Angelo-owned Forget About It Supper Club), the film doesn’t offer much variety. The conversational dialogue, however, prevents the film from being repetitious.
I didn’t quite buy D’Angelo as an experienced comic. He portrays Simon as someone so morose that it would hurt him to smile. I also couldn’t wrap my head around Simon’s opinion on women (he tests his dates in ways that are neither “cool” or psychologically healthy), and his alleged bad reputation that would have had him blacklisted in the real world. But despite the miscasting and the crummy character development, D’Angelo is still able to create natural banter with his co-stars and vice versa. I personally liked riding shotgun with Simon and his Uber driver Jerry (Sugith Varughese, creating something special out of a rote role with likeable gratitude). It’s a fleeting relationship that takes a genuine turn, creating compadres out of complete strangers.
When we’re not in the car with Simon and Jerry, the audience sits in on several routines by other featured comedians at The Comedy Basement (including Growing Pains actress Julie McCullough, Canadian media personality Ed the Sock, and “New Jersey’s Bad Boy” Mike Marino). The stand-up showcase shares the same ebb and flow as a mellow genre anthology with some acts working better than others. However, with comedy being such a subjective topic, I imagine someone will get a kick out of Marino’s tough guy schtick, Ed’s inappropriate yucks, or McCullough’s “do you remember me?” throwbacks.
While the main connections between the actors work, The Joke Thief is inconsequential; especially when compared to the filmmaker’s past work. But just like an opening act, I’m hoping this is Frank just warming up the audience for something bigger and better in the near future.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie