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'The Laughter Life' explores how 'Studio C' develops clean comedy for an LDS audience

"THE LAUGHTER LIFE" — 2½ stars — Matt Meese, Jason Gray, Mallory Everton, Whitney Call, Jeremy Warner; not rated, likely PG for some crude humor; LDS Film Festival

Mormons don’t have a reputation for being funny, according to Mallory Everton of "Studio C." Instead, she said they are known for being overly sensitive, serious and having tons of kids.

“The Laughter Life,” a film by father-daughter pair Jeff and Juliet Werner, explores a week within the creative process of "Studio C" cast members as they balance jokes, the “Provo bubble” and representing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Screened at the recent LDS Film Festival, the film introduces "Studio C" as a sketch comedy group comprised of several practicing Mormon cast members, who broadcast from the BYUtv studios in Provo.

The documentary fascinatingly explores the boundaries the comedians must draw for themselves. Cast members explain that having such a specialized audience base makes joke-writing a serious process. Because of the particular beliefs of the LDS Church regarding morality, marriage, substances and religion, "Studio C" has to take a different path to humor than is the trend in the industry today.

“We kind of bypass the sex and add a lot more violence,” said mustached cast member Jeremy Warner in the documentary.

Living in the “Provo bubble,” as Everton called the Mormon culture in Utah County, requires special considerations in sketches. They avoid references to drugs, they are careful who married cast members do romantic scenes with, and pregnant women in scenes wear wedding rings to avoid the implications of sexual relations before marriage.

“The Laughter Life” highlights one of the most popular examples of the violence phenomenon Warner mentioned is Studio C’s sketch “Scott Sterling,” which has more than 51 million views on YouTube. The series follows the unfortunate curse of Sterling, a fictional Yale athlete who magically blocks every shot from opponents — with his face. By the end of each segment, Matt Meese, who plays Sterling in the videos, is bloodied and comically miserable.

According to Arthur VanWagnen of Excel Entertainment, the Werners saw a segment of "Studio C," and were intrigued when they learned that the young comedians were all faithful members of the LDS Church.

“We are all about smashing stereotypes about Mormons,” said Everton.

The Werners did an excellent job of highlighting those misconceptions, and what "Studio C" and its directors are doing to show that Mormons are just regular, fun-loving people.

“The Laughter Life” also shows how BYUtv hopes to use "Studio C" as a missionary tool, to introduce more people to the teachings of the LDS Church. The documentary is full of clips from LDS general authorities that explain the beliefs of the Mormons and ties those principles into the value codes in the "Studio C" creative process.

One sketch that “The Laughter Life” highlights follows Christian Bale (portrayed by cast member Jason Gray) auditioning to play Moses in a film. The only problem is, Bale can’t do any character but Batman, so the sketch is full of biblical references read in the signature gravely vigilante voice. Those religious nods are context that viewers rarely get in more mainstream comedy shows.

"Studio C" treads a fine line in the religious department, according to director Craig Camp. In an interview in the film, Camp explains that he is always hesitant to insert religious jokes such as the Moses sketch, or impressions of prominent church figures, as to not offend someone in their LDS audience.

One memorable moment in the film was when it followed the night President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, the second counselor in the LDS Church's First Presidency, attended a studio audience performance of "Studio C," and gave the troupe a standing ovation after some impromptu impressions by Gray.

The film is scheduled for release in August.

"The Laughter Life" is not rated, but would likely be rated PG for some crude humor; running time is 76 minutes.