Thin Line Fest opens in Denton on February 18 with five days of documentary features and shorts playing at the historic Campus Theatre downtown. As part of the first-ever preview blogging team, I’m in early doc-mode this year. I started with a short called The Bottom Rung.

One of the things I love most about Denton is the original, independent creativity that permeates the culture here. Most of us are aware of musicians, lyric scribes, visual artists, and writers. But The Bottom Rung showcases a creative segment of which many of us may be unaware. It’s a bit under the radar, on the bottom rung so to speak. These are the creatives among us who see the world through a funny filter and have the gift of articulating their views so that we laugh with them.

Ron Lechler, a stand-up comedian himself, created and directed this documentary as part of his Masters in Fine Arts project at UNT’s Department of Radio, Television and Film. He follows a group of friends who call themselves the Denton Comedy Collective, exploring their shared passion for laughter and their quest to build audiences for their unique artistic expressions.

Through bits of stand-up at various Denton venues, viewers meet several artists, Ron included. One venue is Ron’s own backyard where a group of comedians take turns performing their routines to a small audience huddling around a campfire, much like a song swap among a group of songwriters and their guitars.

What drives this art? It’s not the money. Again and again these comedians say it is the people, especially in Denton, who come to the shows and laugh.

Denton comedian Alex Smelser pushes pizza as his real job. He supplements his bank account part-timing as a nude model for UNT art classes. His passion, though, is making people laugh.

“I will be a pizza guy for the rest of my life if that means I can be a part of a community of people that think for fun,” Smelser says. “I’ve been waiting all my life to meet people that think for fun. I finally have that, and I would do anything to get to keep it.”

Smelser’s fantasy? That someday Denton will have a real comedy club. Who knows? It could happen.

In this film, Ron Lechler shines a spotlight on the comedy community in Denton, a tight-knit group of friends pursing art of a purely laughing matter.