It’s another special edition of Notes From a Comedy Junkie as our own Sara Dahms headed north to Montreal to cover the red carpet at the Just for Laughs comedy awards. Sara is a comedy superfan who even goes so far as to call herself a comedy nerd, but now she’s becoming the queen of the comedy red carpet, talking with the biggest comedy celebrities on the planet. 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 foundAndrew Dice Clay and became a stand-up junkie for life. Two years ago, she took her first comedycation, and 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!
This year marked the 12th annual Awards Show at the prestigious Just For Laughs comedy festival in Montreal. This year’s show was hosted by Alonzo Bodden and recipients include Generation Award recipient, Kevin Hart, Stand-Up Comedian of the Year, Jim Jefferies, Nick Kroll, Andrew Goldberg, Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett received Comedy Writers of the Year for their work on Netflix’s Big Mouth, Breakout Comedy Star of the Year went to Hasan Minhaj and the Rising Comedy Star of the Year was Amanda Seales. This star-studded event was a full on celebration of some of the most talented artists in the business and I was honored to be there on the red carpet right among them and talk comedy!
The Interrobang: This Generation Award is a huge achievement and I just want to throw it back to those early years, making that drive from Philly to New York with Patrice, Big Jay Oakerson and Kurt Metzger. Those were grueling times. What commitment does it take to make it to the “Kevin Hart Level”? You are now an official level in my opinion.
Kevin Hart: I think anything good comes from a high level of sacrifice. If that wasn’t the case you’d have a lot of people all on the same level. The reason why some achieve higher goals and others don’t is because not a lot have the mental perseverance to stay true.
The Interrobang: Did you ever have a moment when you thought that you couldn’t go on or seriously thought about giving up?
Kevin Hart: For me, no. But maybe I’m built different. My mental perseverance isn’t necessarily the same as others. I believe that setting a goal and staying true to it is something that any and everybody should really think about doing.
The Interrobang: Patrice was like that “made-man” who saw the talent within you and pulled you up and had you open and feature for him. You achieved level upon level of success. What was the achievement where you realized, “I’ve done it! I am a comedian! I’m living my dream.”?
Kevin Hart: I can’t really pick one. Being a comedian is a constant struggle. It’s a constant journey. You’re always recreating yourself. You’re always trying to find out what the new version of you is and then how to present that version and in today’s times it gets even tougher so even when you’ve made it you still haven’t made it. You’re still trying to stay relevant. You’re still trying to stay true to the craft so it’s a never ending battle and you just have to always stay true to your goals.
Interrobang: Congratulations! It doesn’t get better than the Generation Award!
The Interrobang: I want you to know that I’m a huge fan of the show and from his ridiculous relationship with Pam, to his dysfunctional family at home, your character, “Jay” is hilarious! I love how you guys are not afraid to push it to the limit with him. Was there ever a time when you saw something on the page that really made you cringe or made you feel like, “I don’t know if I can say this?”
Jason Mantzoukas: No! That’s never been a problem for me. I’ve never been given anything that seems too much and if anything, I will push it further along. They give me such fun, wonderful, funny but then sweet and even heart breaking stories; which I love.
The Interrobang: One of the things I find most interesting about your character is the dynamic of his home life and his relationship with his mother.
Jason Mantzoukas: Oh yeah, and his horrible dad!
The Interrobang: The funny thing is because there is so much dysfunction there, it actually makes you sympathize with that child and care about him and you end up accepting him and all of his weirdness.
Jason Mantzoukas: Exactly!
The Interrobang: You said that you’ve never had the experience of getting a script on “Big Mouth” and saying “no” to anything. Do you think that might have something to do with having a “Yes, and…” mentality from all of the time you’ve spent at UCB?
Jason Mantzoukas: Yes. Exactly! There is always an element of trying to move things forward rather than grinding them to a halt.
The Interrobang: What was the greatest thing that came out of your time at UCB?
Jason Mantzoukas: My relationships. I still perform at UCB every week, with many people that I’ve been performing with for 20 years or more and a lot of the “Big Mouth” cast are from there too. I know Nick from there and a lot of the peer group that I work with on many of the projects I’m on are from there. When I did “The House” with Amy Poehler, Lennon Parham, Nick Kroll and Rob Huebel were in there too. These are all UCB, New York people. Everybody works together continuously and that, to me, is the most valuable thing that we all got out of it and continue to get out of it.
The Interrobang: Welcome back to the Awards Show! You have really become a staple of this festival.
Alonzo Bodden: I love being a part of the festival every year they have had me and I never take it for granted that I’ll be asked to come back. Still, every year that I’m here, I love it! It’s always great seeing old friends and also meeting new people and seeing new comics I’ve never seen before. I am always happy to be here.
The Interrobang: You started out a “New Face” and now here you are hosting the Just For Laughs “Awards Show” honoring the biggest names in the entire industry! Do you remember what it was like being here for the very first time?
Alonzo Bodden: Yes. I still remember what it was like to do “New Faces.” I did “New Faces” over 20 years ago and I still remember what it felt like because that was the day I became a comedian. When you do “New Faces” and the other comics suddenly accept you, that was it for me. Willie Mercer was the talent guy at the time. I came up and so did my manager at the time. It’s cool because a lot of the other comics that came up that year have gone on to have really great careers.
The Interrobang: From “New Face” to one of the quintessential faces of the festival…. That is an amazing story you have! What’s next?
Alonzo Bodden: I have a new special coming out on Amazon called, “Heavy Lightweight” next month. It will be out on August 23 so I’m working on that and looking forward to that.
The Interrobang: I’ve heard a little bit about your story when you were growing up. You wanted to be a dentist at one point. When was it that comedy struck you and said, “No, no, no. You’re for us. Comedy wins.”?
Hasan Minhaj: I was really into speech and debate and public speaking when I was a kid and when I got to college I started watching stand-up comedy. I had an “ah-ha!” moment and realized that comedy is just funny speech and debate.
The Interrobang: There is a lot of logic being used in both of those worlds.
Hasan Minhaj: With comedy you’re making an argument, you’re just doing it in a funny way.
The Interrobang: What is it like having Trevor Noah as a boss?
Hasan Minhaj: It’s really cool. I mean it’s pretty awesome having a smoking hot, South African boss. I mean those dimples! LOL!!!
The Interrobang: Jon Stewart is a very special man and it takes a very special man to fill those shoes.
Hasan Minhaj: Jon’s ok. He’s a 7. Trevor’s a 9. Jon’s a 7 with makeup. Trevor’s smoking!!! LOL!!!
The Interrobang: You are so lucky to be a part of that team. What is the greatest thing you got out of being a part of it?
Hasan Minhaj: Learning the importance of argument and take and its ability to dissect and simplify the news.
The Interrobang: Congratulations on this award! I’d like to talk to you about your beginnings. You started out in the arts with music.
Jim Jefferies: Yes. Musical theater. I studied musical theater.
The Interrobang: In America we kind of have a process that happens with comedians where they start out in comedy and if they’re lucky, someone who’s already a “made man” will see their talent and then bring them up to open, and maybe one day feature and if they’re really good they can one day become a headliner themselves. Is the process the same in Australia?
Jim Jefferies: Yeah. I quit university because there was a comedian called Gary who came through Perth and seen me do 5 minutes and said, you can open for me doing a whole lot of gold mine tours. We were way in the outback and they were tough shows back in the day. These were rooms full of men that had been down a hole for nine months so they were pretty tough. Also, I didn’t tell my parents that I had quit university until probably a year and then I just pissed off to England. The British do it different over there. There’s no headliner/middle. Everyone just does 20 minutes, 20 minutes, 20 minutes so it’s a lot less segregated than the American circuit.
The Interrobang: So basically Gary’s boot camp prepared you for that through those difficult rooms. You were perfectly trained for where you needed to be at the time.
Jim Jefferies: Yes! Exactly! I still see that guy these days when I’m in Sydney.
The Interrobang: I am happy to hear that. JFL is an international gathering of comedy. What role has Just For Laughs played in your success?
Jim Jefferies: You know, I had no intention of ever coming to North America to do gigs. Then around 2004 I came over to do this festival and I got myself an American agent, an American manager and came over to do a few gigs in America. Now, I live in America and have an American child so you can argue that Just For Laughs conceived a child!
The Interrobang: That’s the most beautiful answer I’ve ever heard!
Jim Jefferies : Yes. JFL was life changing for me.
The Interrobang: I live in Chicago, tell me a little bit about what it was like coming up in that scene.
Chris Redd: It was amazing because you got a little bit of everything. We had a lot of segregation in the city. That created an opportunity for you to perform jokes for so many different crowds with different mentalities and different ways of looking at the world all in one place. So that kind of prepares you to go out and be able to deal with different personalities and different kinds of people elsewhere and that’s really cool.
The Interrobang: Chicago helped make you very versatile. You’d be able to play any room, know the crowd and immediately know how to approach them.
Chris Redd: Yeah and definitely be comfortable with them. Even if you don’t know what would work, you’d just be comfortable performing for anybody because there’s not a place that’s showing you people you haven’t seen before, which is always a good leg up when you’re in this business.
The Interrobang: You are now living that dream of every comedian who comes up through Chicago and would love to take their training wheels off, leave the nest and move to New York or L.A. and find success…. and you’ve done it. What has it been like for you at “Saturday Night Live”?
Chris Redd: I feel very grateful for what I’ve done so far. I feel like there’s more to do. It’s a really cool opportunity to be able to be in this position and I want to make the best of it. I just want to create cool work and I’m still getting used to it.
The Interrobang: Is there anyone on the staff that you’ve vibed with, that when you’re together you get each other and you work well together?
Chris Redd: There are so many people that I vibe with there because everyone’s on a really dope frequency right now. I would say that Will Stephen is one of my favorite people to write with. That’s my writing partner right there and you got Pete, you got Kenan for sure, and I mean any given week you can vibe with somebody and create something really cool and really special which is the beauty of that place.
The Interrobang: What are your hopes for the future? Where would you like to see yourself in four years from now?
Chris Redd: I’m thinking about tours. I’d like to have a couple specials out by then and I’d like to be doing some movies and to just be continuing this work and to build a great body of work.
The Interrobang: Well then, I’m looking forward to interviewing you on the red carpet of your movie premiere when that happens for you!
Chris Redd : You know what I mean?! Yeah, speak that into existence! I love that!
The Interrobang: Full disclosure, I have to tell you that besides being a comedy journalist, I’m also a middle school counselor.
Jennifer Flackett: Oh, Sara! We’re your thing!
The Interrobang: Oh, yes! When I first saw your show I was like, “Holy crap! They nailed it!”
Mark Levin: We have a few former teachers on our writing staff.
The Interrobang: You do?! That’s so cool! Well, you guys definitely nailed the dirty truth of the adolescent experience and the personification of the experience is everything. The Shame Wizard is hilarious and I love him but he does also capture a very really emotion kids experience during this time in their lives. What advice would you give if you could go back and talk to your younger selves?
Nick Kroll: It’s the same advice I’m still trying to give myself which is to love yourself. Be better and nicer and kinder to yourself because otherwise the shame and anxiety and embarrassment of that time can continue to haunt you, so I’d say, “Give yourself a hug.”
Jennifer Flackett: And to know that everyone else is feeling it too!
The Interrobang: Going back to the very first episode of season 1, Nick and Andrew were in a Sex Ed. class. That resonated with me because I actually met one of my best friends on a field trip to this place where they had a light up robot teach us about puberty. She was imitating that robot and I was like, “I love her! That’s my best friend!” How did you guys begin your friendship?
Andrew Goldberg: Nick and I met in 1st grade and then around 4th grade we became best friends and spent every moment together for a long time. I remember our Sex Ed. class. There was a movie that we watched called, “Am I Normal” where the boy in it went to the zoo and the zoo keeper showed him animals having sex as part of it. It seemed like that might not be the best way to teach that.
Jennifer Flackett: I can’t believe we haven’t done that on the show!
The Interrobang: There’s the idea! Now you can go back and make it happen and I hear you’ve been extended three more seasons so congratulations on that! What can you tell me about the next three years?
Nick Kroll: Season three of “Big Mouth” is about to come out. We’ll learn about how Duke Ellington lost his virginity, we talk about toxic masculinity, people making lists, we really start to dig further and talk more about what it’s like to be a teenager now. The first couple of seasons was more timeless but sort of a reference to the things that we had all gone through as kids and now we’re really getting further into what it’s like for kids now.
The Interrobang: What is your most embarrassing truth that you shared for the good of the show?
Andrew Goldberg: I’ve shared so many but it’s tough to top ejaculating in your pants while dancing with a girl at school.
The Interrobang: That really happened to you?! I’m so sorry, Andrew! LOL!!!
Jennifer: Flackett That is hard to top… but we will keep trying!
The Interrobang: Jennifer and Mark, you two are a husband and wife team. Have you ever had a situation where you just had to agree to disagree and how do you mitigate that?
Jennifer Flackett: We always say and we even say it with all of us, “the most passionate person wins”. If you care deeply and you can really make that clear, then chances are you’re going to win that fight.
Interrobang: And you all care enough about each other to recognize that.
Mark Levin: We have found that to be the secret to making it work..
Jennifer Flackett: Mark and I rarely disagree. That’s part of the reason why we work together and the four of us rarely disagree. We all have a very similar vision for the show and that’s why I think we have so much fun making it.
Nick Kroll: And watching them work together, they share a lot but also take on very different roles and responsibilities within the show that speaks to their personal strengths as we all do and I think that is another huge part of what makes the show so much fun.
The Interrobang: Nick, you and John Mulaney have done shows together being old in the future and now young in the past, what would a project look like that was you and John in the present?
Nick Kroll: They all feel like the present, even if we are playing old men in, “Oh, Hello” or 13 year old boys or any other combination. The best part of working with John is that he and I are always all of those things and so the playfulness of youth and the weird ennui of age and being friends in the present really come together and are the joy of this whole show. We really are good friends here. Andrew and I have known each other a long time and Mark, Jen and Andrew have worked together and been friends, every cast member, everyone on our writing staff is someone we know or have been friends with for a long time. We have a really great community on this show.
The Interrobang: Congratulations on this award and I absolutely love your dress! You started your career in T.V. and music before coming to comedy. What series of events changed your trajectory and led you into stand-up?
Amanda Seales: It was really an internal thing. I had spent a lot of time in music and hip hop and had hit a point where I felt like it just wasn’t really my voice anymore. It just felt like there was something bigger in me that I needed to get out and when I looked at the people who were doing the work that I wanted to do, they were all doing stand-up. They all had multi-media platforms to share their points of view. People like Ellen, Chris Rock and Chelsea Handler all had stand-up in common. That was the thing that connected them and of all the things they did, like host, act, write, stand-up was the one thing I didn’t do. It was what I was missing and so I started doing stand-up just to see how it would fit and it went from being a device, to my calling.
The Interrobang: Wow! I actually do believe that comedy is a calling.
Amanda Seales: It’s like being called to the alter.
The Interrobang: When did you realize that comedy was your new home?
Amanda Seales: Coincidently right around this time, SNL happened to be looking for a new “nigress” so they started doing a ton of showcases around town and someone asked me to do one and I loved it.
The Interrobang: During your time as a new comedian on the scene, who were your champions that helped you get to where you are today?
Amanda Seales: I didn’t really have a mentor. My peers were more my champions. People like Lil Rel, Sam Jay and Reg Thomas just gravitated towards each other and we keep bringing each other up as we all get new positions and I think that what ends up elevating the quality of what we do.
The Interrobang: You’re going to be presenting the Breakout Comedy Star of the Year award to your friend and fellow “Daily Show” cast member, Hasan Minhaj. What is it like working with Trevor Noah and being a part of the “Daily Show” team?
Ronny Chieng: Trevor is great! He’s a super positive guy and is always super generous in terms of giving platforms to the people on the show. He is never jealous or protective, he’s the exact opposite actually. He is so encouraging. He wants everyone to succeed in whatever they are doing whether it’s part of the “Daily Show” or not.
The Interrobang: Your success is his success.
Ronny Chieng: Yes and he truly feels that way. He’s also able to see the comedic angle in any story you give him and that is exactly what you need for the job.
The Interrobang: He sounds like a dream boss.
Ronny Chieng: He’s such a positive guy. He doesn’t come from anger. He doesn’t come from outrage. He comes from this very happy place because, as he says, he came from nothing.
The Interrobang: What he’s overcome is amazing. He really has an incredible story.
Ronny Chieng: Yeah, you know the book… It’s made him millions… I mean enough with the money already! How much does this guy need?! LOL!!!
The Interrobang: Speaking of money…. Congratulations on all of your success on “Crazy Rich Asians”! How has life changed for you since that movie came out?
Ronny Chieng: Well, since I’ve done the movie I’ve been able to parlay that into being the second choice presenter at the Just for Laughs comedy festival Awards Show! LOL!!! So it’s been going great!!! LOL!!!
The Interrobang: LOL! That is hilarious! LOL!!!
Ronny Chieng: LOL!!! It’s done wonders for my career and hey, if you get a role in the biggest romantic comedy in the last 10 years maybe you too can be a second choice presenter at an awards show…. where you present the award for no money! LOL!!!
The Interrobang: Oh my goodness! That was the best answer I’ve ever heard. So what is next for you? Is there anything we can look forward to seeing you in in the future?
Ronny Chieng: Well, for today, I’m about to present an award to Hasan Minhaj, legendary phenome of comedy in America and then I’m going back to New York and going back to “The Daily Show.”
The Interrobang: Do you have any interest in doing more movies?
Ronny Chieng: Yes! Anyone who is reading this out there, please put me in more movies! I’ll do anything!