Most of us who grew up in the 1990s, especially those with a wicked sense of humor, remember The Jerky Boys, the outlandish duo of John G. Brennan and Kamal Ahmed who made a name for themselves with their comedy albums filled with hilarious prank calls. They even made their own Jerky Boys movie in 1995. What you may not know is Kamal Ahmed went on to become an accomplished indie filmmaker, whose new movie Laugh Killer Laugh arrives in theaters and VOD platforms April 24.
This crime drama delves into the fractured psyche of a troubled jewel thief named Frank Stone (William Forsythe), a serious professional who is clearly hiding some demons, and doesn't find joy or humor in anything. We get glimpses at his haunting past with flashbacks of his orphanage headmaster (Tom Sizemore), memories Frank doesn't quite know how to deal with until he meets a woman (Bianca Hunter) in a creative writing class, which gives him an outlet to express himself that he has never had before. But when his mob boss tries to kill him, he emerges from a coma as a completely opposite man who finds humor in everything around him. I recently had the chance to speak with Kamal Ahmed over the phone for Laugh Killer Laugh, and you can take a look at our conversation below.
I got a chance to see this and I really enjoyed it. It was definitely not what I was expecting, which is a very good thing. It took me by surprise.
Kamal Ahmed: Oh, thank you. You know, it's my fourth feature. I realize I've been under the radar, as a director, because I make independent films which are sometimes tough to distribute and promote, but we've got good buzz with this and I just hope everyone feels the same as you.
Can you talk a bit about your writing process? Did this idea start with the character, Frank, or maybe a deconstruction on the mob genre itself?
Kamal Ahmed: Well, you know, believe it or not, this is actually my homage to a film noir type of movie. Even the title, I did on purpose. A lot of those movies from the mid-40s to the late-50s had a strange thing like that, like Kiss Me Deadly or something like that. Initially, I was thinking about getting this even shot in that time period, but then I was laughing to myself, saying, 'Who am I kidding?' To recreate that period would take a big budget, so it's a neo-noir. The whole time I was writing it, I was picturing the character as Charles Bronson. We can't get Charles Bronson, so... (Laughs). I was thinking, 'Who could star in this?' William Forsythe is a guy who I've always admired, and he has that strong, quiet type of presence, that reminded me of Bronson a bit, so I was real happy that he came on board.
This is obviously a very different movie, but this kind of reminded me Ghost Dog: The Way of The Samurai. He's this guy who lives by his own rules, not like a spoken code, per se, but he's definitely seen as an outsider to everyone else.
Kamal Ahmed: Yeah, you know, that's the one thing I couldn't shake, when I was writing the script, the character. I realized that almost every movie... he's technically not a hit man, he's more like a diamond thief or a jewelry thief, but he falls into that same category. I realized that just about all the characters ever made, they're always like an orphan who was a strange type of person growing up. The movie The Professional, the guy was kind of like that, Ghost Dog, I couldn't really shake that aspect of it, so I said, 'How else would a guy be this crazy unless he had some kind of strange upbringing?' I try to steer away from anything that's too familiar with another work. I feel the strongest point I have is being slightly wacky and original.
What I really liked about this is when Frank takes that turn. I read the synopsis, and when you read anything like that, you expect this stuff to happen in the second act. It was great because you really get to see so much of who this guy is, before he turns. It was a really clever choice, I thought, because you really invest in this world, and then it takes a crazy, awesome turn.
Kamal Ahmed: Oh, thank you. Also, Tom Sizemore, his performance, really makes the character so much more forgivable to us, because you understand his pain and why he's such a destructive human being is because of this twisted, demented headmaster.
I've always been a big fan of Tom Sizemore, and it was interesting to see that side of him.
Kamal Ahmed: Oh, yeah. Tom Sizemore, he was so great to work with. I never realized what an incredible sports fan he is. Every time, in between takes, all we did was talk about sports. I could have spent hours talking to him about sports.
That's awesome. Can you talk a bit about bringing the rest of this cast together? I really enjoyed Bianca Hunter's performance and I thought the whole ensemble was really solid. Did you have a lot of time to find the rest of these supporting players?
Kamal Ahmed: You know, I didn't have a lot of time, but what I do have is a little collection of great theater actors and movie actors that are a little bit under the radar that I've been lucky enough to have met and become friends with. I like working with them. Bianca, for instance, was in the Abel Ferrara movie Bad Lieutenant. He comes up to her and goes.... Yeah, you ever... (Laughs) you know. So, when I first saw Bad Lieutenant, I was like, 'Wow, that girl is great.' I've seen her in a couple of other movies, and she was actually in The Fighter. When I became friends with her, I said, 'You're an incredible actress.' But she's one of these people who doesn't really put herself out there, it's just people calling her out of the blue, and she'll do a movie, you know. I also used Kevin Corrigan, who I'm a big fan of. He's a great character actor, and I'm lucky he was available. He worked on my last film, 1,000 Times More Brutal, and he's just a joy to work with. Actually, the school teacher, is Bianca's husband, and he was in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. He played the older brother.
Kamal Ahmed: Yeah, that was him. He actually went into retirement and I coaxed him out of it, because he wanted to work with his wife Bianca. The head mobster, Victor Colicchio, I actually didn't know, but we had been friends on Facebook. You know, you get all these friend requests on Facebook, and we were friends for awhile, and one day he put up a thing saying, 'Hey everyone, this is my acting reel, if you care to see it,' and I watched it and I was like, 'Wow, who is this guy?' This guy is really good. I get people like that, you know. When a film has a lot of money, you can get the best casting companies to find the best agencies to work with and everything. I do things so under the radar, but it seemed to work for this one.
Can you talk about the structure of Frank finding this creative writing class? You mentioned Kevin, and I loved his performance in this. I thought it was hilarious. Anyone who's ever taken any writing class has had a guy like that.
Kamal Ahmed: I wrote that character in there because every single class, it doesn't matter if we're talking about creative writing or chemistry, there's that one person that's a know-it-all and always thinks they're above everybody else, who you just want to smack on the head, so that's why I wrote that part. He could really play a smug person pretty good, so I did that. As for the creative writing part, I didn't grow up "literate," in the sense that I read the classics. I read all non-fiction my whole life. In a weird way, I don't have anything to steal from. My structure has always been fragmented and weird things like that, so, I don't know. I just thought it was an odd idea. I thought about the story for awhile, and it just takes a little bit of time of, 'OK, how do I piece this together now?' But, I seem to find a way.
Is there anything else you're developing that you can talk about?
Kamal Ahmed: Yes. The next film I'm going to do is called The Martyr Maker. It's going to be the story of a Muslim kid who's not religious that somehow gets suckered into being one of these suicide bomber types by this evil type, ISIS type of character, who is coming to New York. There is a CIA guy who is after this person, and it's going to be quite like an action-packed type of film. I'm working on that right now, as a matter of fact.
That sounds awesome.
Kamal Ahmed: Oh, thank you sir. Thank you very much.
Well, that's my time. Thanks so much. It was great talking to you.
Kamal Ahmed: Hey, same here man, take care. Thanks.