It’s another edition of Notes From a Comedy Junkie as our own Sara Dahms tackled year 3 of Skankfest. Sara is a comedy superfan who even goes so far as to call herself a comedy nerd. Raised on National Lampoon, John Hughes, Gene Wilder, and Fairy Tale Theatre, her life changed after her older sister showed her Eddie Murphy’s Raw in 1988. Soon after, she found Andrew Dice Clay and became a stand-up junkie for life. Just a few years ago, she took her first comedycation to see Jeff Ross play in Miami on her birthday. Since then, she’s been traveling all over the country checking out the best comedy everywhere, a confirmed comedy addict, and now she’s agreed to share her travels with us. Read all Sara’s write-ups here, and check out her red carpet coverage of the Comedy Central Roast of Bruce Willis with interviews with Nikki Glaser, Dom Irrera, Samm Levine and more!
As I sit here thinking about the magic that was this year’s Just for Laughs Comedy Festival, I can’t help but remember back to my first time being there. I had heard so many wonderful things, from so many different people and by spring of 2016 the longing became too much for me to bear. I just knew it was time for me to answer the call and take Just for Laughs on as my next adventure. I saw shows, met stars and most importantly, connected with extraordinarily, unique individuals that I have since been honored to call friends. There is always magic in the air when you’re at Just for Laughs and this year proved even more true to form than ever. I laughed harder, danced longer, made more new friends and saw more great shows of more diverse points of view than ever before and I can’t wait to share my stories with you.
Within moments of arriving to the hotel bar I ran into one of my favorite festival friends and off we headed to “The Comedian’s Comedian” with Stuart Goldsmith and his guest Pete Holmes. The panel had just begun so we slipped into the open seats in the back and as if planted there by the Comedy Gods themselves there they were, the most perfect words to hear at the very first show of the festival, “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” It’s a Thomas Campbell quote and the guys were discussing its significance as it appears in Pete’s new book, “Comedy Sex God.” Those words really resonated with me so I took out my notebook and wrote them down. Pete Holmes is so tuned in. I could listen to him talk about comedy all day. Our host, Stuart Goldsmith was one of the many talented moderators who lead beautifully orchestrated conversations on the panels I attended during the festival. He was smart, funny, charming and really seemed to understand the nuances of comedy. He asked thoughtful questions that allowed Pete to share some really beautiful gems of insight and advice such as “Let the weeds grow with the wheat” when he was describing the writers room at “Crashing.” Pete said his writers were essentially going to be his brain and he was going to be sharing all of his thoughts with them…. ALLL of them! No one ever said it would be easy, but Pete advised that writers work through the “shit” because sometimes you have to battle through it to get to the “flowers.” How beautiful. When Stuart asked what got Holmes into comedy, he replied that he didn’t get into comedy, comedy got into him and I totally know what he means by that. Comedy is a force and sometimes it moves you to do things like buy a passport and a ticket to a comedy festival in Montreal and year after year thousands of other fans of comedy are moved to do the same.
After the Pete Holmes Panel, I headed over to the Bonfire hosted by Dan Soder and Big Jay Oakerson. I love those two guys and their entire team! The show started out with comedians Guy Branum and Rich Vos as the guests on the couch. Jay started talking about this video he saw online of a mother going completely apeshit about her kids’ school. They played it for us and the guys tried to figure out why she was so angry with their hilarious commentary. It was hilarious but I have to admit, I wasn’t completely shocked by it either. I’m a counselor in a middle school and have actual firsthand knowledge of just how upset some parents can get when it comes to their children and rightfully so in many cases but not in this particular situation. They went to commercial break and I told Jay that I had a theory as to why she was upset. Jay knows that I’m a counselor so he asked me if I’d be interested in talking about it with them when we got back on the air. Wild horses couldn’t stop me. I thought they were going to give me a crowd mic but instead the guys invited me to join them on the couch. It was such an honor and a privilege to sit on the couch with the likes of these legends and right then, right there, I spoke my first words into the on-air world of the Just for Laughs comedy festival. This was a lasting treasure that will stay with me forever and I had an absolute blast dissecting this viral video while laughing my ass off right alongside my heroes. I wasn’t more than 4 hours into my first day and I was already operating on a cloud 9 level. But could it possibly get better than this?! Oh, yes! If there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s never to underestimate the power of the universe.
I went back to my room and got ready for my evening shift of programing. Tonight was for “The Nasty Show” and “Ari Shaffir’s Renamed Storyteller Show.” “The Nasty Show” has a very long history with this festival and with the lineup of killers on the bill this year, I was not going to miss it and lucky for me, the moment I stepped foot outside I had a fun JFL reunion with more of my buddies that I love getting to see every summer at this festival and we all headed off to “The Nasty Show” together. This year’s lineup listed Bobby Lee as the host and featured comedians CP, Bonnie McFarlane, Jimmy Carr, Andrew Schultz, Jessimae Peluso, and Big Jay Oakerson. Every single one of them did a great job keeping it dark and nasty just as it should be and this crowd was loving it. I especially loved Bonnie McFarlane. I love her style and she just kills every single time I see her. Andrew Schulz was probably the darkest of the comedians. His writing is at an Anthony Jeselnik level of offensiveness which I thoroughly enjoyed. The show ended with one of my festival favorites, Big Jay Oakerson. Jay hosts the most offensive podcast on Earth, so being on this show is the most natural thing in the world for this already naturally gifted comedians. Jay’s ability to improv on the spot and deliver his blue yet hilarious brand of comedy is a show in itself. He did an amazing job closing the show and all of our appetites had been satiated for the time being. From there I bid my friends adieu and I headed off to Café Cleopatra to see “Ari Shaffir’s Renamed Storytelling Show” because nobody embraces the festival spirit better than he does. Tonight’s show was at its usual home, the upstairs of a transvestite strip club and it is always my favorite spot to watch comedy when I come to Montreal. Ari opened the night still sporting his retro, 1970’s dad look and explained to us its conception. He also acknowledged how much his girlfriend absolutely hates it and all of us send our deepest condolences to her libido! But in all honesty, if anyone can rock that “creepy 1970’s car salesman” haircut, Ari the Great can! He also announced that the show was going to be a bit different this time in that he was not going to be sticking with a theme. The comedians coming to the stage tonight were going to be free to tell any story they are moved to share with this lucky crowd of diehard comedy fans who were out on this beautiful summer night for a midnight show. Every single performer including Emma Willmann, Beth Stelling and Dan Soder did an amazing job with their stories. Andrew Santino is lucky he got away in one piece after experiencing what jail is like from the inside while wearing nothing but a green speedo. Byron Bowers left his heart on the stage as he shared a story about his father’s struggle with mental illness. Byron’s performance was groundbreaking and yet another reminder of the quality of content you always get at an Ari Shaffir production. Thank you for always using your platform to give artists a voice. I see you, Ari! ☺
Day 2 of my festival experience began with the “That’s What She Said” panel of extraordinary women including moderator Samata Narra and panelists Cindy Chupack, Debbie Liebing, Deniese Davis, Jamila Hunter and Jandiz Cardoso. Seeing the names of such successful women in the entertainment industry was beyond inspiring to me and made me appreciate and remember my favorite show “Sex and the City.” I can still remember the feeling it gave me the first time I saw it like it was yesterday. “Sex and the City” was a show made an impact on my life at the time and now here I am 20 years later, getting to hear stories from that show’s executive producer and writer Cindy Chupack and come to know each of the powerful, female panelists up there on the stage of the “Inspiration Room” a little bit better as they shared their stories and unique experiences of beating the odds inside the entertainment business and even more impressive than their already impressive resumes was that none of them seemed to be the least bit afraid to tell us the good, the bad and the ugly truth about their careers in this very male dominated industry and that in itself is evidence of the progress that is being made in this new age of the creative arts. “That’s What She Said” was a truly uplifting and inspirational panel. I even learned about a few plans that are in motion to increase opportunities for females through education and employment inside of the entertainment business. Samata Narra and her panelists Cindy Chupack, Debbie Liebing, Deniese Davis, Jamila Hunter and Jandiz Cardoso made it abundantly clear that although we are not yet to the place we’d like to be in terms of gender and equality within the industry, they’re working on changing that and progress has definitely been made since the days of the “one ‘token’ woman per staff” mentality that seemed to be the norm of some of their experiences in the past. I stepped out of that conference room feeling full of reassurance and hope for the future and was happy to receive a text from one of my favorite women in comedy to laugh with, Zoe Friedman.
Zoe was headed to the “Variety’s ’10 Comics to Watch’ Cocktail” and I was more than happy to join her. No one makes me laugh harder than this woman does and we had been looking forward to catching more comedy together ever since she and I met up for a “Roast Battle” at The Comedy Store when I was in West Hollywood a few weeks ago. We headed off to the reception and I was happy to make the acquaintance of some new faces as well as be reunited with other more familiar ones. The ceremony began with a beautifully moving quote by the great journalist and eternal hippy, Paul Krassner warning us to beware of fear for “fear is the death of comedy” and just like that I was applauding through tears. Each of the comedians being honored this year were announced and one at a time they came up and were given a very chic award. Congratulations to Fahim Anwar, Celeste Barber, Piff the Magic Dragon, Chris Fleming, D.C. Young Fly, Patti Harrison, Zainab Johnson, Dusty Slay, Robin Thede, and Patricia “Ms. Pat” Williams. It was a lovely reception and I look forward to see what the future has in store for all of Variety’s “10 Comics to Watch.” Zoe and I went up to our rooms to get ready for the night and decided to rendezvous at “The Stand-Up Show with Jon Dore.” I loved Bobby Lee and Jessimae Peluso in “The Nasty Show” but was not familiar with Jon Dore or his comedy and had no idea what I was in for. Jon Dore ended up being super funny, extremely likeable and incredibly handsome. How is it possible that this comedian, who belongs as the leading man in every movie on my television has been completely off my radar?! I for one would like to cast my vote right now to make Jon Dore the next big leading man in Hollywood and all of the friends I discussed this with agree! He has that “Aiden” quality about him that makes us melt and when I met him later on that night, he was just as humble as he was handsome; very!
After the Jon Dore show, Zoe and I headed off to the “Jim Jefferies Gala” for more comedy. Her friend Erin Foley was in the line-up, so we were lucky enough to be able to watch the gala from backstage and there we were immediately met by some of the nicest and most supportive people I have ever met. Everyone I was introduced to was super cool and extremely fun to talk comedy with and there, on the backstage monitors of the Place Des Arts, Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier Theater, we sat among comedy royalty, laughing and enjoying all of the talent the “Jim Jefferies Gala” had to offer and it was amazing! After the gala, our posse headed back to the hotel and spent the rest of this beautiful summer evening outside on the terrace sharing stories, listening with our hearts and really getting know each other. There must have been magic in the air that night because out there, under the light of the moon, these jovial women opened up their hearts and souls and really championed each other’s ideas through encouragement, advice and accountability. It was truly special and I honestly felt blessed to have been there with such amazing women, united by our love of comedy and in the immortal words of John Lennon, “We will see it through, for our love is true.”
I was beyond excited to be back as The Interrobang’s, “Award Show” red carpet correspondent and I did not take that honor for granted! I spent days doing research, journaling, manifesting and writing questions for each of the artists being recognized at this year’s festivities. My writing process began weeks before the actual event. I shopped for my red carpet look during trips to New York and L.A., lovingly wrote my questions out on the page and dreamt of how each of these conversations would go. Yet in all of the time I spent preparing, never could I ever have imagined just how smart, funny and cool everyone was going to be. Hasan Minhaj had me dying with his jokes about Trevor Noah’s good looks, I fell in love with the entire “Big Mouth” crew and was completely honored by Jim Jefferies’ openness and candor. If there was one underlying spirit or theme to my conversations this year, I’d have to say that it was team work and the awesomeness of creating a community of artists cut from your own cloth to work with. Comedy gives me life and sharing this joy with my heroes was an absolute honor! Congratulations to all of this year’s award recipients and Thank you for your openness and your time!
After the Awards Show I ran to Ron Bennington’s “One Flew Over the Comedy Club: The Addictions and Compulsions of Stand-Up Comedians.” In addition to being a comedy journalist and middle school counselor, I’m also a huge fan of Ron and I dream of being as good of an interviewer as he is one day. I was feeling super good right off my red carpet high and that put me in the perfect mindset to sit and laugh with these extremely talented comedians who have seen some shit that I cannot even begin to imagine. Joe List made reference to a time he defecated in a female caller’s gym shoe, then had to own up to it the next day as a part of his acquaintance with rock-bottom. Emma Willmann talked about her struggles with impulse control and how she still sometimes finds herself getting “drunk on rage,” especially when it’s for a justifiable reason. Ms. Pat kept us fighting for air with her knock-out one liners and Rich Vos told us a story about driving to Florida after being hospitalized and medicated for anxiety when he was younger and in all seriousness, if ever I could hug someone through my words on the page, I would hug all of these guys, especially Robert Kelly. His story of surviving abuse and addiction all by the age of 15 is astounding and his willingness to talk about that time in his life is pretty darn commendable. I appreciated his openness to admit that he still sometimes struggles with anxiety and anger. I am happy that Ron Bennington had the good sense to ask him to share one of his coping mechanisms with us because he did and it is to repeatedly yell out the word, “Aardvark!” “Aardvark!” “Aardvark!” and it was delightful. Bobby said that yelling this out makes him laugh and that takes him right out of his anger. Ms. Pat had a hard time imagining how this could help because she had no idea what on Earth an aardvark even was. Ron Bennington’s “One Flew Over the Comedy Club” was a fun, smart and inside look at the addictions and compulsions so many of our favorite comedians suffer from and this delicate subject matter was addressed beautifully in the hands of the master moderator, Ron Bennington.
Next, I headed to Andy Kindler’s “State of the Industry.” I thoroughly enjoyed Andy’s address this year which he described as being, “not a roast but the cowardly ramblings of a bitter man” and was super excited to learn that The Interrobang secured the audio from this iconic annual event at the Just for Laugh’s comedy festival for our website. The gloves were really off this year and Andy was coming for everyone…. Everyone except for Adam Sandler… and I cannot wait to listen back to it all on www.theinterrobang.com.
I was happy to run into my friends Zoe and Jodi on my way out of Andy’s address. We made plans to get ready, then rendezvous at Katacombes for “New Faces.” All I knew was there was one “new face” that I really wanted to see and out of all the endless possibilities of how this night could’ve played out, right as I stepped foot into Katacombes, there he was on stage. Shane Gillis is the new kid who’s been taking the New York podcast and comedy scene by storm and I was interested to see how he would do at this most awesome opportunity to be a “New Face” at the Just for Laughs comedy festival. He was super funny and relatable and did a great job. Hopefully this will be the official start of a long, happy, successful career for Shane. Congratulations! From there Zoe and I headed off to meet up with a few more friends and see Jeff Ross and Brian Moses’ smash hit of a show, “Roast Battle.” Tickets were long since sold-out and the stand-by line was long, but still we managed to get in and score a table for the five of us.
Jeff Ross came out to introduce the show and did a really great job of explaining that this theater is a sacred room of free speech and asked that we as the audience respect that notion. The judges for the night were Michael Che, Jim Jefferies and Neal Brennan. Jefferies took a second to warm up to the idea of roasting and asked Jeff if the contestants were supposed to be mean to each other? Jeff Ross explained that every roast that he has anything to do with will always come from the heart and that we are only meant to roast the ones we love. Michael Che proved to be a fair and just judge of comedy and Neal Brennan never stopped writing jokes. It was perfect! Jimmy Carr and K. Trevor Wilson advanced in the competition and then K. Trevor went on to win it all in the finals the next day. The five of us girls all headed down to the floor after the show to say hello and congratulate Brian Moses and Jeff Ross on another successful year at Just for Laughs! I love these guys and am an enormous fan of everything they do for comedy and with that we were off to the Netflix party to dance the night away. The venue was the perfect, the drinks were flowing, the food was yummy and the music kept us dancing and having fun. This party was awesome and I only geeked out for a second when I met Michael Rapaport and had to tell him how much I loved him in his role as a cop on “Louie.” I was having so much fun! This awesome party ended with me, Zoe and Jeff Ross singing and dancing to Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” on the dance floor as the lights turned on. I swear to God, it felt like a scene right out of a movie. It was a perfect little moment in time that seemed too amazing to be my actual life, but it was. I danced as hard as I laughed and I was grateful to have had the opportunity enjoy this time in the company of so many supportive, positive people. I don’t know what I did to deserve this but I will never stop pinching myself.
I spent the better part of my Saturday writing up my red carpet interviews, but then hit the ground running and closed the festival with the opening of the “Kreeps with Kids” comedy tour, Margaret Trudeau’s, “Certain Woman of an Age” and Big Jay Oakerson’s “What’s Your F@#king Deal?” How’s that for an amazing night of comedy?! I was in heaven and the “Kreeps with Kids” tour of killers was the perfect pacer car for the evening because you know that every single person in that lineup is going to be funny and you are guaranteed to laugh. Ron Bennington hosted, kept us laughing all night then later led a hilarious panel featuring all of the “kreeps” with kids on the stage and even featured a cameo from Robert Kelly’s adorable son, Max coming out on stage to tell us a joke. So cute! Ron Bennington, Rich Vos, Jessica Kirson and Robert Kelly all killed! They kicked this tour off here at JFL in Montreal and will be continuing through North America this fall and I can’t wait to see them again when they come to Chicago! Buy you’re tickets now!
After “Kreeps with Kids” was my last opportunity to see Margaret Trudeau’s, “Certain Woman of an Age” and I wasn’t going to let this pass me by. I remember reading a post on Bruce Hills’ Instagram page about this amazing show he saw at the Second City in Chicago and he was super proud to announce that this show would be coming to Just for Laughs this summer. I have to admit that I was curious about this iconic woman’s life and I knew the show was probably sold out but I figured that it couldn’t hurt to try. When I arrived to the theater the show was in fact sold out, but the awesome people at the door were kind enough to show me to a seat that had not been claimed and I am so glad I took the chance and saw Margaret Trudeau’s show. She blew me away with stories of overcoming and learning to cope with the struggles of mental illness, fantasy like nights of dancing at Studio 54, partying with Jack Nicholson, jet-setting with the Rolling Stones and spending the equivalent of $60,000 worth of clothes during a shopping spree in Rome! Margaret then managed to connect to the heart and soul of every woman as she declared that men need not protect us, or give us permission to fight our own battles, “just get out of our way!” She even moved me to tears as she recounted the experience of losing a child and then burying her ex-husband, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, soon after and just how close she came to losing it at the funeral. In the end Madame Trudeau did a beautiful job telling her story, on her terms! She is an inspiration!!! Brava!!
My very last show of the 2019 Just for Laughs comedy festival was “What’s Your F@#king Deal with my good friend, Big Jay Oakerson. My last evening in Montreal was being spent with exactly what you hope to see when you come to such an elite event. You want the best of the best and that’s what I got! Tonight’s show was the “Kreeps with Kids” edition of “What’s Your F@#king Deal and it was epic! Jay had Jessica Kirson on the audience mic and then one at a time brought out Rich Vos, Bonnie McFarlane, Ron Bennington, Robert Kelly and “New Face” Shane Gillis to the stage and one at a time each one of them tore the place up with their crowd work. I was truly in my happy place. This year I laughed harder, danced longer and saw more shows than ever before and I cannot wait to come back for more! Thank you for all of the memories, JFL! xo