It was that time again. For more than 25 years, every July I attend the Just for Laughs Festival in Montreal. I can’t get myself to miss it. It’s the biggest comedy festival in the world. It’s like comedy camp! Everyone in comedy you’d want to know is there.
My adventure started at the airport as it often does. I flew up to Montreal on Thursday and Andrew Schulz was on my plane which was a cool way to start, cause we always have a few laughs when we see each other. Then in Montreal’s Yuval Airport, as I was going through the maze of Customs and having to print out one form after the next who turned out to be at the machine right next to me but Amy Schumer. And next to her was Rachel Feinstein. They would be doing a show together but not at the airport, so we just exchanged pleasantries and I got to congratulate Amy on her recent marriage. and we continued through Customs.
I got to the Hyatt Hotel in time to see Big Jay Oakerson and Christine Evans hanging outside the hotel, which is always a good sign, and just in time to catch Ron Bennington’s “Great Debate” on SiriusXM, where comics from the West Coast debated with comics from the East Coast about which was better, LA or NY for stand-up comedy. For LA it was Brad Williams, Doug Benson and Laurie Kilmartin. Battling for NY it was Ari Shaffir, Big Jay and Jim Norton. New York won and I think the LA comics knew that going into it, but it was a fun spirited debate.
Russell Peters had a show that night called “The Deported World Tour” at the huge Place Des Arts and of course it was sold out. Luckily I keep his number handy in my phone and he was able to arrange two tix at the last minute, for which I was very grateful. It’s like old home week when I go to see him with his two hip hop DJ’s, the Canadian superstar Starting From Scratch, ( that’s the name he goes by) and the American superstar with the best name in the biz, Spinbad! They get the crowd really psyched up before the comedy portion of the show actually starts. And Russell had Ruben Paul open and then Jake Johannsen who I hadn’t seen in a really long time and who was there with his 13 year old daughter which was so cool. Jake is one of those rare comics with such a unique delivery. He tells his jokes in such a deliberately halting way using mis-direction and it’s great to watch him work.
Then Russell comes out to HUGE applause and does a killer show with lots of new material and not as much crowd work as when I saw him last. I always refer to him as “The Messiah of Comedy” because he brings such diverse groups together. And while he was on stage he spoke to a guy in the audience who turned out to be from Jordan, and after Russell imitated his accent perfectly he told him he knew his King, and asked if he wanted to call him. Russell told me afterwards that he was really debating whether he should call the King from the stage, but he decided not to and it was probably a good thing. Not all Kings like to be used in a stage act.
The big event for me as always was covering the red carpet for the Just for Laughs Awards which happened on Friday. As always it was SPECTACULAR! Tiffany Haddish in a gorgeous red sequins dress looking like the star she is, received the award for Comedy Person of the Year, presented to her by Kevin Hart who was delayed for the red carpet but made it to the awards show which followed. Lil Rel Howery received the award for Breakout Comedy Star of the Year from his buddy Deon Cole who I had just seen headlining Gotham Comedy Club and who wore just a black T-shirt. On the awards show he said if he knew how big the event was going to be he would have worn a sport coat, and then he thought to himself, “What would Chappelle wear?”, which brought down the house because Dave was wearing a black tank top. He said who ever thought a guy wearing glasses, (referring to Rel), could wind up doing a love scene!
When Lil Rel Howery came over to chat on the carpet we hugged it out and I got to congratulate him not only on his award but on his new FOX show called “Rel”, exec produced by Jerrod Carmichael, Kevin Barnett and Josh Rabinowitz, with Sinbad in the cast. Lil Rel graciously and humbly accepted his award and kind of choked up when thanking his Mom for being behind him all the way even when things were tough. Jo Koy hit the red carpet and was receiving the award for Stand-Up Comedian if the Year presented to him by Howie Mandel who now owns part of the festival, and who came out in brightly colored pants, and a T-shirt. Jo Koy also gave a very moving speech during which he debated whether his Mom was 4’8” or 4’10”, and said he was inspired by Eddie Murphy back in ’87, and in ’89 he made the decision to just do comedy. He said some very poignant things like, “ When somebody says “No” show them why they should have said “Yes”.” Using himself as the best example, when he got turned down by Netflix for a special he used his own money to produced “Jo Koy: Live From Seattle” and wound up selling it to Netflix!
Hannah Gadsby got the award for Comedy Special of the Year for her hit show “Nanette”, and she and I got to discuss self-deprecating humor on the red carpet, and how she got tired of doing it, because enough people had made remarks about her whole life. She got the award from Maria Bamford who did not do the red carpet. And Marc Maron presented the award for Best Comedy Writers of the Year to the duo who created his show GLOW, Carly Mensch, and Liz Flahive, and was his funny and usual self when he saw me on the carpet. I don’t have to engage in self-deprecating humor when I see Marc, I leave that to him! (LOL) We go back a very long time!
The biggest surprise on the red carpet was when Dave Chappelle came out with John Mayer. I said to Dave, “You never do red carpets” and he said “I know!” But both he and John came over and we shot some fun stuff, and John asked where he knew me from and we figured out it was from The Cellar. He’s such a big comedy fan and funny in his own right. We discussed how comedy and music are so similar in terms of timing and the rhythm of a joke.
Alonzo Bodden was the host as usual and was hilarious in his opening when he stated “There are no white males getting an award this year” and then crushed the room by repeating that phrase 4 or 5 times. He said “if you’re a white man and want to be part of this show, buy it!” In a funny reference to Howie Mandel who cracked up at that remark. Alonzo said no matter what he said it didn’t matter because there will always be a need in movies and TV for bouncers, which is what he usually winds up playing!
But the highlight of the event had to be Kevin Hart’s presentation to Tiffany Haddish. There was so much love between them. He gave a beautiful and touching speech about how hard she’s worked and how she deserves this award. He said that early in her career, he gave her advice, “ Stop talking about dicks so much” to which she said, “ I can’t help it, it’s my favorite!” And her acceptance speech was equally as touching and equally as funny, when she made fun of Kevin being late because it was his own plane, to which he looked a bit embarrassed and said it was nobody’s business how he traveled. And she went on to thank all the comics who kept her from getting into fights because she’s from South Central, and all the comics who guided her because she didn’t have a Dad. Her tears of gratitude were real, and she gave me the biggest hug on the red carpet when she recounted that I knew her from the beginning. She wore that dress like a Queen, but later in the day she told me she couldn’t wait to change because the sequins were getting uncomfortable!
She commented that she fashioned herself after Jessica Rabbit and said she had just caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror and “ I look fuckin’ cute!” But one of the most touching parts was when she discussed being able to get her Mom out of a mental institution and finally hearing her Mom say she was proud of her. That’s all she ever wanted to hear. It was an amazing show. One of the best ever, even with no white men getting awards! (LOL)
Wanda Syke’s Throwback Show was amazing and featured Jo Koy, Fortune Feimster, and Matt Braunger showing old clips of themselves from when they just started out. It was kind of a roast of each other and was very funny. Jo Koy’s tape showed he was once billed mistakenly as Joe Cow! HILARIOUS!
Andy Kindler’s State of the Industry event was as funny as ever hearing Andy rip the industry to shreds, as well as himself, and he commented that I sit right in front of him every year.
I had really wanted to see Trevor Noah’s gala but of course it was sold out. Luckily for me Trevor and his manager Norm Aladjem were able to come to the rescue and I got to see it. Trevor is ao talented and does such great imitations. He had a masterful opening during which he discussed Justin Trudeau going to India and dressing he and his family in traditional Indian garb making himself a joke to his countrymen, and how Drake is the most polite rapper. He even imitated Rihanna, and had a great French accent. Both Ted Alexandro and Moshe Kasher both had killer sets and when I asked Moshe if his wife Natasha Leggero was with him he told me she was home with the baby!
Running into my pal HQ Trivia’s Scott Rogowsky was cool along with his “Running Late” producer Alex Brizel, and Scott said that hosting HQ has been a dream come true, and he could have never guessed how popular it would become. Matt Richards was there too and we shot an interview about him being the West Coast host for HQ Trivia. Seven-time Grammy winner John Mayer was recently a co-host with Scott, and was also up at JFL to do a show with Dave Chappelle.
Chris DiStefano was there and told me he’s hosting a new interstitial show on Comedy Central called “Stupid Questions” which comes on every Friday at 11. It started 4 weeks ago and he’s had on comics like Nikki Glaser, Dave Attell, Dom Irrera, and Lil Rel asking things like “ If you owned a boat, what would you name it?” The stupidest question I ever heard was one guy asking another, “ Hey aren’t you the guy that got killed in that accident last week?” And just when I was sure I had heard the stupidest question ever, the guy he asked said “No, I don’t think so!”
Other people I ran into were Vondecarlo who was asked to do LOL, then opened for Chris DiStefano on Friday and Saturday and did Rel’s show on Saturday after Rel asked her personally. Pete Lee was there with his girlfriend, both in from LA and he said he’s really enjoying living out there. He had just finished his taping for the LOL gala and said he was working on some new material for his next Tonight Show appearance, and that Jimmy Fallon had made him a “regular” so he might be on again before January. He was on three times in the past year.
Michael Ian Black was there with his wife and we ran into each other in the garage and went to the Funny or Die party together while reminiscing about the movie we wrote for Sony back around 1990 even before he was in The State on MTV. It was supposedly the world’s first interactive film called “I’m Your Man.”
Canadian born Sabrina Jalees told me about her new son Wolfie, that she had with her wife, showed me pictures, and said she recorded her Netflix special 6 days after he was born. I couldn’t believe it when she said we had first met 15 years ago when she was up there doing the Homegrown Comics show. Time really does fly!
I ran into Bobby Kelly having breakfast with his family at Eggspectation and he made believe he bumped me in line and took my table. Judah Friedlander was running around doing a million shows, and chatting with people in the lobby, and I ran into one of my favorite people in the world, Ken Jeong who plays in my opinion one of the funniest characters of all time, Mr. Chow in The Hangover movies. In his role as a real life doctor we discussed the story of my heart attack and stent placement and how fortunately all is well right now.
All in all it was a fantastic festival as usual! No surprises there! And with that, … I’m OUT!!!