A young comedian misses performing, but faces a world in which she can no longer tell if she’s funny, so she decides to reconnect with her audience members – one at a time.
ONE & ONLY is an experimental comedy special written and performed by Sophia Cleary for an audience of one person. Using this 1:1 ratio of performer to audience, ONE & ONLY explores connection, intimacy and the shifting power dynamics in live comedy.
The everyday performer desires critical acclaim and pure adoration. But after years of not performing, how does a standup connect to her audience again? What do performers need from their audience, and vice versa? When comedy is personally tailored, can it move us from fear to intimacy?
ONE & ONLY straddles the line between a standup-comedy special, documentary reality-tv series, and performance art piece: Marina Abramovic’s "The Artist is Present," with an Andy Kaufman twist. Drawing on her experience as a private investigator, birth doula, and comedian, Sophia devises an experience for her audience that is both structured and spontaneous. During this produced fever dream, Sophia and our audience members experience the all too human debacle of fearing the intimacy we so badly crave.
Get to know writer/actor Sophia Cleary
1. What motivated you to make this film?
In 2021, while emerging from pandemic isolation, I decided I wanted to create a standup comedy show – but for an audience of one person. One & Only is the documentation and story of how I attempted these performances. It is a category-defying, short film with narrative and documentary aspects that culminates in an experimental standup special for an audience of one person.
2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this film?
A year and a half.
3. How would you describe your film in two words!?
4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?
The pandemic — the fear, malaise & paralysis that came with that time period.
5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?
I was so honored to have such thoughtful feedback about this short. It made me really happy and grateful to feel that this special concept intrigued and entertained people.
6. When did you realize that you wanted to make films?
I am first and foremost an artist interested in live performance. When I can contribute to filmmaking through that lens, that is what I am most interested in. The pandemic made me want to make films so that I could reach wider audiences with my live performance ideas.
7. What film have you seen the most in your life?
Unfortunately (?)… The Mummy (1999)
8. What other elements of the festival experience can we and other festivals implement to satisfy you and help you further your filmmaking career?
I’m not sure! I’m so impressed by the treatment I’ve received from this festival already.
9. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway. How has your experiences been working on the festival platform site?
I really enjoy the FF platform. It’s great that I can build up a film’s profile and then easily submit it to multiple festivals without much tweaking.
10. What is your favorite meal?
Impossible to answer. I love food too much. Maybe fresh ceviche? I love seafood and raw seafood. Oysters! But that’t not a meal… I love French and Ethopian cuisine. Maybe a fresh salad or salty vegetable and then some kind of stew or pasta. For dessert? Tiramisu.
11. What is next for you? A new film?
I am hoping to find a way to continue live theatrical performances of One & Only. I am currently in the process of looking for producers and funding for this work to continue.
I met Sophia Cleary in the fever dream of 2020, and quickly came to realize she had touched all of the edges of humanity. Sophia had waited tables, delivered babies and performed as a clown. And she was not only a working comedian, she was also an absolute freak show.
But unlike many actors Sophia was conscious of her incessant need for validation. This gave her a superpower that informed her stand-up. She even wanted to do a piece on a performer’s hunger for love and applause.
Sophia talked to me about wanting to do stand-up comedy for one audience member at a time. I myself, who after months in a pandemic was struggling to have basic conversations with one person, thought the idea was intimidating. But since fear is always my barometer on what I should pursue, I volunteered to direct this as its own comedy special.
Tonally, we wanted to make ONE & ONLY warm and vulnerable, less confident than your standard comedy special, with a romantic red and blue color palette. We also wanted to see Sophia’s vulnerability be rejected: we wanted to see her bomb, and suffer from the great expectations of what this show would give her. There, while she was on the floor of a dressing room, barefoot and crying, the glaring overhead lights would emphasize the reality of performing.
Using volunteer audience members, we got to play with real reactions and deliver moments that were as nerve racking and hilarious as Sophia Cleary herself. We wanted people to laugh, maybe to look askance, but more than anything we wanted to connect: with Sophia, with her audience member, and with you, our viewer. We wanted to all hold our breath in unison, wondering what would happen to us next.