The Opening Act (2020)

Cedric the Entertainer and Jimmy O. Yang star in 'The Opening Act' (RLJE Films) 



Jimmy O. Yang, Cedric the Entertainer, Alex Moffat, Ken Jeong, Debby Ryan, Bill Burr, Whitney Cummings, Jermaine Fowler, Russell Peters

Directed by Steve Byrne

Jimmy O. Yang from HBO’s “Silicon Valley” plays an aspiring stand-up comic named Will Chu in writer-director Steve Byrne’s “The Opening Act.” The cast includes a plethora of funny people including Cedric the Entertainer, Ken Jeong, and SNL’s Alex Moffat, plus cameos by Bill Burr and Whitney Cummings. If you think getting up on stage and telling jokes is easy, you’re in store for a rude awakening. The comedy drives the message that stand-up is hard and while there are some funny moments, the film is missing laugh out loud sets by the very funny cast of comedians.

“The Opening Act” pays tribute to the 1999 comedy “Office Space” from Mike Judge as Will spends his days in a dead-end job working for an insurance company. His boss Barry (Bill Burr) is often seen hovering around Will’s cubicle dropping off stacks of paperwork while quoting lyrics by Journey; “Don’t stop” he exclaims as Will looks perplexed, followed by “Believing” quoting Steve Perry from the band’s 1981 hit. Burr, coming off a sizzling appearance hosting SNL, is a great Gary Cole substitute, although Barry and Bill Lumbergh are complete opposites. There aren’t enough scenes with Burr and with this cast they could have pulled off an OS2.

When the Pennsylvania Improv run by Chip (Neal Brennan), reaches out to stand-up comic Quinn (Ken Jeong) in search of an MC and opening act, he recommends Will. It’s a big break for Will who quits his insurance job and with the encouragement of his girlfriend Jen (Debby Ryan), decides to go for it thus fulfilling his lifelong dream of being a comedian; The film opens with touching scenes of young Will (Edward Kenneth Park playing the childhood version) and his dad (Simon Rhee) watching scores of VHS tapes filled with stand-up comics.

Cedric the Entertainer is terrific as Billy G. an aging comic past his prime who once had a hit TV series famous for the catchphrase “Ohhhhh Billy!” He’s the headliner at the comedy club where Will is emceeing with lively comic Chris (SNL’s Alex Moffat) hitting the stage right before Billy G. The club’s DJ Ricky is played by Jermaine Fowler (“Sorry to Bother You”) who tries to keep the audience hyped in between stand-up sets. He’s also in charge of turning on the dreaded “red light” that gives a comedian the cue to get off stage, usually because they’re bombing. The best scenes between Cedric and Yang are the ones where they meet at a local diner where Billy G. offers advice and motivation to Will.

Yang’s dry personality works well for his character who sucks at being a stand-up comic. The scenes where he’s bombing on stage are cringeworthy, but they represent the all too real experience of being a comic just ask writer-director Steve Byrne whose used his own experience to craft the story.

The indie film is filled with an A-list of funny people, unfortunately, they are crowded together in the story that remains focused on Will so that means they don’t have enough screen time to make an impact. Also missing are the funny sets by these comics (which includes a cameo by the very funny Whitney Cummings), as the audience is treated to small blurbs of funny instead of a nice 10-minute set by the comics. But I get it, the film is all about the struggle and it delivers the message loud and clear.

I grew up watching “Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip” and “Eddie Murphy’s Raw” two of the funniest films you’ll ever see. The genius funnymen make it look so easy, but both struggled at the beginning just like most comics. “The Opening Act” is worth seeing thanks to the talented cast of comedians and there are plenty of funny moments in the film. I was just hoping for a little more stand-up but there’s always Netflix and YouTube to fill the void.

(3 stars)

Now showing at Alamo Drafthouse Lacenterra (Houston) and Alamo Drafthouse Corpus Christi

Joe Friar is a member of the Critics Choice Association (Los Angeles) and the Houston Film Critics Society. A lifelong fan of cinema, he co-founded the Victoria Film Society, Frels Fright Fest, and is a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic. 

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Joe Friar is a member of the Critics Choice Association (Los Angeles) and the Houston Film Critics Society. A lifelong fan of cinema, he co-founded the Victoria Film Society, Frels Fright Fest, and is a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic.

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