Two words describe this year’s Gangrene Comedy Film Festival.
Actually, it’s just one word. Repeated.
The annual salute to funny, quirky short films takes place Friday, Sept 13, at the Kenley Amphitheater in Layton. And this year’s theme is a salute to one of the greats of the television era, according to festival program director Craig Nybo, of Kaysville.
“Each year we have a new theme, and this year it’s ‘Lawrence Welk,’” Nybo said. “I love Lawrence Welk — I’ve always been a fan. He’s one of the most underrated talents, and he brought so much to television.”
Welk was an accordionist and bandleader who hosted the long-running musical television program “The Lawrence Welk Show” from 1951 to 1982. His musical style and use of a bubble machine during the show led to his show being described as “Champagne music.
Nybo points out that Welk’s show never took itself very seriously, but that it always featured quality music. He says that’s a good fit for what he says is a quality film festival that doesn’t take itself seriously. Previous Gangrene events have featured things like lucha libre wrestlers, a bigfood rock band, astronauts, aliens, a Kiss tribute band made up of members with a form of dwarfism, a motorcycle daredevil, and live chickens.
“We latched onto Lawrence Welk because his shows were hilarious if you watched them from the right angle,” Nybo said. “Any show that features plush-animal panda bears dancing to a big band is OK in my mind.”
This year’s six short films will be interspersed with a 17-piece big band and live acts like a female vocal trio and an opera singer.
“And a magician, for Pete’s sake,” Nybo says. “We’re chucking everything at the audience.”
Indeed, if the Gangrene Comedy Film Festival were Champagne, Nybo says slyly: “We might have spiked it with something a little heavier.”
Nybo marvels at the fact the festival has been around almost two decades.
“This is year 19,” he said. “I can’t believe it’s still going.”
The original intent of the event wasn’t a public festival. Nybo says it was just a bunch of filmmakers and their friends getting together to watch each other’s films.
“It actually started out as a backyard party,” he said. “That first year, it was just sort of a bunch of friends. Everybody would make their own films, and this was an excuse to get together, have a party and laugh. We stretched a sheet out, rented a projector, and watched some of our films.”
By Year Three, a lot of people had become curious about the previously semi-private event.
“The public just started coming out,” Nybo explains.
That year, the festival moved to a high school auditorium. Two years later, they’d made a deal with the Kenley Amphitheater in Layton, and Gangrene was on its way.
Nybo likes what Gangrene has become, but admits in some ways he misses those early days before it became this public spectacle.
“It’s evolved a lot since then,” he said.
Nybo said organizers have learned they need more than just films to bring people out. That’s how the live aspects of the festival developed.
“These days, you can have a film festival in your pocket by just hitting YouTube,” he said. “But we’ve latched onto the live comic act of the show.”
The festival will involve an opening set number, then show a film, then have another number, then show a film, and so on.
“It really works for our audience,” Nybo said. “People love the films, but a lot come for the live entertainment rather than the films — it’s kind of weird. I’ve had people say, ‘That one a good one this year,’ and then they’ll add, ‘And the films were good, too.’”
Nybo says the Gangrene Comedy Film Festival has “done it all.” So then, how do organizers top things like the year they had the tiny rock ’n’ rollers in the trademark Kiss Kabuki makeup?
“The trick to that is never try to top last year,” Nybo said. “We don’t think that way. We don’t think it needs to be bigger. … If you don’t like the festival, come back next year, because each time it’s going to be completely different.”
This year, for instance, Nybo says they’ve lined up a great Lawrence Welk impersonator to keep the whole evening swinging from beginning to end.
“It’s gonna be a wunnerful, wunnerful celebration,” Nybo said. “And let’s not forget the films.”
This year’s festival will feature six short films from around the country. One of the filmmakers is from California, one from Colorado and one from New York.
“And then of course we like to cater to the local filmmakers, so we’ll have two or three of those,” he said. “They’ll do a brief Q&A, and then remain onstage for their film.”
Overall, between the films, the filmmakers and the live performances, Nybo says it’s going to be an incredible, unique evening.
“Weird and awesome,” he concludes.