It’s been over three decades, and, sadly, the legend of comedian Dick Shawn is slowly fading away from our collective memories. You may know Dick Shawn as a counter-culture comedian with numerous appearances on all the daytime and late-night talk shows of the 60s and 70s. Of course, I’ll never forget Shawn as Lorenzo St. DuBois (L.S.D.) in The Producers. The legend that is Dick Shawn could not be told without bringing up his final hours, which is the subject of Chris Cashman’s short film, Leave ’em Laughing.
The short is loosely based on the L.A. Times article by writer Carlo Coppo, “Shawn Left Them Laughing, Confused.” Pete Gardner plays Coppo, a haggard writer, who finds himself alone in an empty apartment due to the recent separation from his wife and son. To cheer himself up, Coppo convinces two friends to accompany him to the University of California, San Diego, to see his comedic hero, Dick Shawn (Matthew Glave), perform an “Evening with Dick Shawn.”
“The legend that is Dick Shawn could not be told without bringing up his final hours…”
The show opens with Dick Shawn’s head sitting on a platter, waxing philosophical about the pros and cons of not having a body. As the performance continues, it is spliced in with moments of Coppo’s personal life, growing up a fan of the edgy comedians of the 60s and the looming collapse of his marriage. It all crescendos with Dick Shawn’s “final act.”
The film is more of a reflection of Coppo’s life as a writer in the midst of moving on from his divorce, and Cashman finds parallels with Coppo and the comedy of Dick Shawn that night. I wouldn’t say Leave ’em Laughing is a tribute to Dick Shawn per se, but Matthew Glave does an impressive impersonation of the comedian. He not only looks and sounds like him, but his mannerisms are pretty close to how I remember Shawn.
The final act is why you want to see Leave ’em Laughing. Sure, if you look up Dick Shawn on Wikipedia, you know what happened and how the lines blurred between comedy and reality in those final moments. If anything, Dick Shawn’s ending is one of the most ironic in human history. And for Coppo, left him with an essential perspective on life.
"…It all crescendos with Dick Shawn’s 'final act.'"