The filmmakers behind Respect the Light, the Miami-based comedy docuseries premiering July 10 on Amazon Prime, admit they had issues with previous cinematic efforts at filming funny people.
“A lot of these documentaries get into the nitty-gritty of a comedian’s life,” says Respect the Light codirector Gerard Clarke, one-third of the indie filmmaking group the Ledge Media. “But as soon as they get onstage and the comedian is about to tell that first joke, they cut away.”
In trying to capture the experience of sitting in the back of a comedy club, the Ledge Media had to start by finding real comedians. The project began with Miami-based comedian Sebastian "Cbas" Mattar at its center. Clarke and Mattar used to wait tables at the same restaurant, so as the idea of a docuseries grew, Clarke reached out to his former coworker.
“I gave them a list of other comics who you could consider major players,” Mattar says. “These were the guys who I saw every night when I was going onstage.”
Through Mattar’s connections in the Miami comedy scene, the Ledge Media found a simple way of pitching the series: Three comedians in a city with little-to-no established comedy scene chase their dreams while navigating their everyday lives. How do a comic’s day-to-day hassles influence his act?
Production began in the summer of 2018, with Mattar and local comedians Manny Garavito and Rudy Wilson as the focus of the narrative.
“You take for granted [as] true and authentic the things these comedians were saying,” producer Rashielle Teape says. “First, we watched each of their sets; then we took a look at their personal lives, like the garage Manny was living in or the Smoothie King where Rudy worked. We got to see where their jokes came from.”
This fly-on-the-wall approach shows viewers the amount of work that goes into crafting jokes for an audience, similar to how a sports documentary would show athletes on and off the field.
“The way these guys destabilize their lives to pursue their dream is admirable,” says codirector Gregory Kerrick, who cut his teeth on sports docs like the NFL Network’s Undrafted. “You watch the lives of comedians and athletes — everything is second to comedy or sports.”
As production came to a close, the trio of Ledge Media was reminded of themselves as they documented the ups and downs of everyday people making their dreams come true.
“As an indie filmmaker, you’re in charge of everything,” Teape says. “The same way these guys hope their jokes land, we’re hoping this is a story that resonates with people."
Respect the Light premieres Wednesday, July 10, on Amazon Prime.