Gag (2014) – By Philip Smolen

Oskar Newman (Henry Fagg) is a shy, mousy nobody who harbors a very big dream. He wants to become a stand-up comedian. So he manages to convince Ralph (Michael Bates), an owner of a local Australian dive to let him perform. So that night, meek, wimpy Oskar goes up on stage in front of an audience of about 10 losers, including Eyrn (Seren Bell), a whiny bride-to-be who’s making the rounds, and Stanley (Brian Godfrey), a drunk with a big mouth. As Oskar struggles up on stage, both Eryn and Stanley start to give him a really hard time. But Oskar isn’t worried. He’s brought along a special surprise, and before the night is over, he intends to give new meaning to the term “captive audience.”

“Gag” is an 11 minute Australian black comedy from filmmakers Luke and Kristian Ramsden and it’s a penetrating and almost uncomfortable look at the struggles many performers face when they are just starting out. Oskar is a loser, but he still feels that he has to follow his dreams. So when his relationship with the audience goes south, Oskar goes nuclear and turns a potential laughing situation into a life and death one.

I really felt for Oskar as he stands up there alone with no support and can only see the confused and unappreciative faces of the audience looking back at him. This is a blunt look at the human condition that gets really weird and surrealistic at the end. “Gag” is an odd and off the wall short that can be interpreted several ways. Is the film a literal personification of a joke? Or is it simply an 11-minute exploration of the terrors of performing in front of an audience? Either way, “Gag” will keep you guessing and thinking.

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