Stand-up Dramedy ‘The Opening Act’ shines on Blu-ray and DVD

by Nick Spacek on December 9, 2020

in Blu-ray/DVD Reviews,Reviews

[Rating: Solid Rock Fist Up]

Out from RLJE Films December 15 on DVD and Blu-ray.

Written and directed by stand-up comedian Steve Byrne in his feature debut, The Opening Act is a feature film which took some reflection to find the heart within. While the on and offstage bombing of protagonist Will Chu (Jimmy O. Yang) might have originally had me visibly cringing during my viewing of the film, after taking a night to think on how The Opening Act has heart and strength beneath its surface.

“In THE OPENING ACT, Will Chu is stuck in a thankless job while trying to pursue his true passion in life, becoming a stand-up comedian. When he gets the opportunity he’s been waiting for, the emcee slot on the road opening for his hero Billy G., the realities of life on the stage come crashing in. Between relentless hecklers, drunk comedy groupies and hard-to-impress morning radio DJs, things get off to a rough start. Even if he can learn from his idols and overcome the challenges, he’ll have to prove he has what it takes to make his dream a reality.”

Immediately after watching Byrne’s film, I was iffy as to my opinion on The Opening Act. Awkward humor is such not my thing, the aspects of watching Yang as Will just absolutely eat it so many times – both onstage as comedian, and in personal interactions with his fellow comics – had me curled up on the couch in near-agony. Any film or show which purports to take you somewhere for palpable discomfort in social situations, like Booksmart or Pen15, just leave me so anxious for the characters that I can’t get into them, and that’s exactly what I felt during The Opening Act.

It’s not that the acting is bad. Everyone in this film is pretty solid. Even Alex Moffat‘s douchey hybrid of Anthony Jeselnik and Dane Cook is charming enough that his regular hookups and many friendships make sense. Everyone, that is, with the exception of Yang, who is the protagonist. He’s flat. His journey is arguably the crux of the movie, and he’s so basic everyman that there’s nothing on which to grasp. Granted, yes, it gives him a serious amount of redemption at the end, but otherwise, there’s no there, there.

He’s just a cardboard cutout with so few connections to anyone other than his equally paper-thin girlfriend, Jen (Debby Ryan) that you have no idea why he’s pursuing this so strongly, other than a silent montage which opens Byrne’s film, presenting it as this thing which Will shared with his now-deceased father.

What’s funny is that Yang’s standup is good, but we don’t know him well enough to see it in context. It’s like he exists in a bubble or something. But, yeah: even Bill Burr works as a shitty boss. It’s fun, the standup is way solid, but watching The Opening Act is almost as much a struggle as Yang’s hero’s tale. The payoff’s worth it in the end, but just barely.

That’s what I thought after finishing it. Then I slept on it, came back, and watched the bonus features on the bonus features on the forthcoming RLJE Films Blu-ray. “The Making of The Opening Act,” “Getting Started in Comedy,” and the extended stand-up scenes all provided this alternate perspective which I hadn’t considered, and that’s the fact that there are all of these professionals around protagonist Will who, despite being messes themselves, have constructed their life around stand-up and see it not just as this desire to perform, but as a business and a way of life.

As Billy G, Cedric the Entertainer has a gravitas and realistic view of this business and what it means to him, and it doesn’t come across as forced. You can tell that both the character and the comedian portraying him has a lot at stake in this, and he’s learned a lot the hard way – and really, that’s the meat of Byrne’s film. The concept that dying onstage is just part of the learning curve and how you get better is oddly relatable to anyone who’s ever spent time in aspect of the arts. When you do something – writing something, doing a radio show, or getting up onstage to perform – you don’t quit the instant you have one bad experience.

Fuck, that’s not how it works at any other thing you’d want to do for a living. You think any carpenter just threw in the towel and went to work at a gas station because they mis-measured and cut up a stack of 2x4s an eighth of an inch too short for the shelves they were building? No, they went back to the lumber yard, ate that expense, and measured twice before cutting the next time. You take your lumps, learn from them, and use that to better yourself.

And The Opening Act is funny. The stand-up sets are solid, with a crew of folks any comedy nerd would be excited to see do material – Ken Jeong, Whitney Cummings, Moshe Kasher – and the comedians as actors are solid, as well. Tom Segura kills in a cameo as a cop, and Russell Peters excels as Randy, a morning drive-time DJ of whom Will makes an enemy. There’s a scene with a woman named Sophie (Courtney Pauroso) that excedes The Hangover in terms of just how out-there and absurd it gets, and that scene – where Will is such a fish-out-of-water nice guy, fully out of his element and comfort zone – is really the key to the movie.

I kept coming back to that set of events in my mind, realizing that this the thing about Byrne’s script that I just didn’t grasp, initially: Will Chu is funny and has drive, but there’s always this sense of fear which holds him back from doing anything without first checking to make sure things are okay. After his initial decision to quit his job as an insurance adjuster to take the chance of emceeing at the Improv, he’s constantly trying way too hard to assure that everything works out, just awkward with fear that his first shot will be his last, as opposed to appreciating the fact that he got the chance at all.

There’s a lot to take from Steve Byrne’s The Opening Act, but that’s the main takeaway: if you’re willing to take a chance, enjoy it while it lasts, rather than worrying about what happens if it doesn’t go exactly as planned. When you do, you’ll see the opportunity as the gift that it is.


Nick is a self-described “rock star journalist,” which is strange, considering he’s married with two kids and three cats. This is just further proof that you can’t trust anyone online. In addition to his work for Scene-Stealers, Nick can be found bitching about music elsewhere on the Internet at his blog, Rock Star Journalist, and as Music Editor for The Pitch.

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