Ari Shaffir’s Renamed Storyteller Show: An Oral History
(Lessons in how to take a bar gig into one of the best nationally touring shows in comedy.)
Part Five: Just for Laughs
Sam Saifer: The show was already about the pursuit of fun, and festivals are the perfect place for it because you can bring people on who are going to be headlining anyway. And as Ari started performing at more festivals as a headliner, we would look for opportunities to take This is Not Happening on the road too.
Eric Abrams: Montreal was the most important festival for us. People were primarily in town for one show, which meant our show was perfect because it could service comics who were in town with nothing to do. I think the first year we did four shows, five comics a show.
Ari Shaffir: We got into Montreal, I was doing The Nasty Show again, and we were bringing This is Not Happening. Robbie, who worked at Just For Laughs and now works at Netflix, said you’re going to do your show at midnight, which I was upset about. And were in a transsexual strip club, Cleopatra Cafe, which I was mad about because it wasn’t a comedy venue. But the show before us had Robert Kelly, Bill Burr, and Joe DeRosa so it wasn’t that bad.
Eric Abrams: I was all in from the start. I love the fact that Lenny Bruce used to have to perform at strip-clubs to do his material. And Cleopatra felt like the exact right place to have our show, because no one goes in there with any pre-conceived notions. People who are easily offended or very religious won’t even come in there, so Bobby Lee is feel free to tell the story of his threesome.
Ari Shaffir: The show became the hang out. Jim Jefferies came to every show, Brian Posehn would just stay after his show to watch. Comics love watching the show because you can’t steal a person’s story, but it might spark an idea for a story from your own life.
Joe DeRosa: I thought it was a really cool opportunity. It’s synergy at a certain point. Sometimes a show comes along that fits into a perfect pocket and at that time, it was that show. It made sense to take a well-received storytelling show in Los Angeles that gets some of the top comedians, and take it to a festival where all the comics can perform at midnight. Everyone has a few drinks in them by that time and it can be a loose and wild show. It made perfect sense to take it to Montreal and make it the midnight show.
Ari Shaffir: I was at this UFC fight with Russell Peters and asked him to do my show in Montreal. I didn’t yet know who Russell was yet in Canada and said “it will probably sell out” and he’s like “It will be.” Russell is Canadian Jesus. He was doing arenas in Canada and here he is doing an 80-seater for me, and he really opening up on our stage about personal stuff.
Bert Kreischer: Doing that show in Montreal I’d argue saved my career. I wasn’t doing a lot of stand-up at the time, I think I was in my eighth year of Travel Channel and I wasn’t fully committed to stand-up. I did a Seeso event and one show in a bigger room, each like 7 to 10-minute sets, and I just wasn’t good. And Ari asked me to do a couple of his storytelling shows and I told my Tracy Morgan story. And I did so well, those bad sets were just erased. I ended up doing an hour that week and that led to my Showtime special.
Ari Shaffir: I think the Tracy Morgan story’s one of the best stories we’ve ever had on the shows.
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Lesley Coffin is a feature editor for FF2media and has also written the books Lew Ayres: Hollywood Conscientious Objector (2012) and Hitchcock's Stars (2014), and currently writing a third book. Follow on twitter @filmbiographer for thoughts on movies and cat pictures.