“Care to Laugh” is the second feature-length documentary film to come out of AARP Studios. While the studio has been in existence for the last decade, bringing topical information to 50-plus year olds, the creation of feature films for theatrical release is a relatively new endeavor.
Comedian Jesus Trejo stars in “Care to Laugh,” a documentary about the balancing act of caring for his aging parents and perfecting his craft as a comic. As the film travels to various festivals around the country, collecting awards and praise by all who see it, it’s obvious that the topic of caring for our loved ones as they age resonates with everyone, no matter their age.
I recently sat down with director Julie Getz, star and comedian Jesus Trejo, and vice president and executive producer of AARP Studios, Jeffrey Eagle, to discuss the film, now a part of NYC DOC. What I learned about the film, the studios and their endeavors was quite surprising and just might give you a new outlook on one of the largest nonprofit organizations in the U.S.
Pamela Powell (PP): I had no idea that AARP was making feature films.
Jeffrey Eagle (JE): AARP has had studios in the Washington, D.C., area for about 10 years. They’ve got a very impressive broadcast facility because they stream, they do satellite media tours. AARP is... advocating and supporting 50-plus themes and topics. I think when (Director) Julie [Getz] and I... first went to work there, having worked in television together at Discovery and other places, we realized we’re all these themes that are universal, but if you make them personal you can reach an audience so we’ve done that in the short form, in the digital space, and in the podcast space.
PP: And now in the feature documentary space with “Care to Laugh.” How did you find Jesus and develop this film?
JE: We did this event at the Hollywood Improv back in December of 2016 and AARP, as you know, is the largest nonprofit organization in America, 38 million members, and caregiving is a focus. It’s often seen as an end of life story as opposed to just a life story. I think that when we started digging into statistics. It was statistics that drove us to that event, of those 40 million caregivers in America, 10 million of them are millennials. When we started digging into the research, caregivers want two things — time and laughter. So we thought why don’t we have something that gives caregivers time. Well, that would be a night out. And what could we do that would make them laugh? How about a comedy show? And oh, by the way, who’s telling the jokes? Wouldn’t it be great if the comics were caregivers? Jim Brewer’s a caregiver. Jesus is a caregiver.
In that room of 200-250 caregivers, there was this kindred exchange, an energy that was honest, relatable, it was personal, friendly, [and] supportive ... then when we heard that [Jesus] might do less comedy and more caregiving ... we said, hey, how about we approach him because comedy has ups and downs. Caregiving has ups and downs. There’s intense love of family and love of craft and hard knocks of rejection and hard knocks of health. The film is able to be in those places ... take the valleys and the peaks with laughter and light. And that’s what I think we’ve done. AARP studios, we are about making these big issues, fraud, and caregiving and health and financial matters personal. We want to do more stories like this.
PP: We Baby Boomers are aging and taking care of their parents and our children will be in the same boat in the next 20 years. I see other studios also addressing the issue of aging as Elizabeth Chomko’s film did in “What They Had.”
JE: “What They Had” is a part of our world, our universe, because Blythe Danner and Hilary Swank are on the cover of our magazine right now. November is National Caregiving Month. Not a lot of people know that, but we do... the power of film is limitless [and] we’re visual storytellers. We’re trying to bring these issues to life, finding characters that feel real. Working in our world at AARP real issues that have information behind them. As I said, this wonderful, magical documentary came out of a simple question “What do caregivers want? Time and laughter. That’s the creative challenge to find people that can represent an issue with deep emotion the same way that Jesus did. But at the same time, there’s a multigenerational piece. The more people see themselves, the more people will respond to the stories. We appreciate how much people are connecting with this film, that they see themselves.
PP: I’m sure you’ve seen how people connect with this story following the film’s screenings at the festivals, right?
JE: We were at the Heartland Film Festival [and] we had the closing night showcase slot. The film wasn’t even really over when Jesus went up front to tell a few jokes and hands went up ... because they wanted to ask how are the parents are ... and then they started connecting. They started telling their own stories to him and then having him respond.
PP: What do you hope people will take away from this film?
JE: The film is about love of family and the power of laughing. I believe that those two things come shining through. And when people are alone or people are given diagnoses or given up hope, they’re not alone and that they’re still able chase their dreams.
As we discussed the film’s theatrical release in 2019, somehow I began telling my own stories of my parents, relating to Jesus’ road trip with his parents. Aging and caring for our elderly is truly a universal theme with which we can all connect.
For more information about AARP Studios and what this organization has to offer, go to www.aarp.org/caretolaugh