Leave them Laughing

By Caren Cross

Carla Zilbersmith is given the ultimate bad news. She is a 46 year-old performer of comedy, self-parody and ballads, living in Berkeley, California. She’s been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease and given less than four years to live. She has an adorable, endearing teenaged son, wonderful friends and fans. Leave Them Laughing is a 90-minute “pre-mortem” of Carla’s life, a life lived fully, but far too fast. From her wheelchair, Carla vows to exit the stage with songs about life, quips about death, and a smile on her face.

Reel Docs, Leave them Laughing, Documentary, Q/A & Margarita reception. Fri, Jan 13, 3pm. Teatro Santa Ana, La Biblioteca, Reloj 50A. Donations 80 pesos

When comedians get laughs, they are said to have “killed.” When they don’t, they’ve “died.”

In John Zaritsky’s Leave Them Laughing, Carla faces her death as she lived her life, “killing” audiences across the planet. Zaritsky is an Oscar-nominated director who met Carla in 2008, and immediately saw the film in his head. “I jumped into high gear, knowing my time was limited to do justice to the canvas of Carla’s life. There was no time to wait for the usual funding process. For the first time in my career, I used my own money. That’s how strongly I felt about telling her story.”

We see a universal appeal for this unique portrayal of a woman’s capacity for humor in the face of tragedy. Carla’s outrageous and colorful sense of humor remains intact, even as her physical body weakens; who else would have the words “Out of Order” tattooed on her feet?

On stage in actual and dramatized flashbacks to her giddy days as a comedienne and chanteuse, and on camera in the unashamed current reality of her condition, Leave Them Laughing tells Carla’s own glad, sad story in her own voice through diary entries, travelogues, interviews and skits. Films of her last brave travels, including one to Mexico, demonstrate the ferocity of her intention to suck the last molecules of pleasure from her life.

REEL DOCS will be hosting this screening. And, as always with Reel Docs films, a member of the crew will be present. Sandy Handsher, one of the producers of the film, will be flying in to San Miguel in order to conduct a Q&A following each of the screenings. She will also be honored at a margarita reception where members of the audience can meet her in person. Sandy is a film professor and was a very close friend of Carla’s.

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