It’s another very special edition of Notes From a Comedy Junkie as our own Sara Dahms flew up to Montreal to cover the red carpet at the Just for Laughs Comedy Festival’s Comedy Awards. Every year the Just for Laughs Awards are one of the most attended and celebrity-studded events of the entire festival and this year’s honorees were an amazing crew. 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. Eighteen months 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!
I am a HUGE fan of Dave Chappelle’s so when I saw that he was walking the carpet in support of the talent being recognized at this event, I jumped at the opportunity to talk to him. Chappelle has the wit of a comedic genius, the mind of a philosopher and the soul of a musician, and has somehow found a way to merge all three of these elements into the shows he puts out time after time! Whether it be collaborating with the likes of John Mayer, Chance the Rapper, Frédéric Yonnet or any of the other musicians he’s worked with, Dave Chappelle knows how to create a next level experience that has you dancing one minute and laughing the next… Now that’s a party! I asked him how it is that he has managed to capture all of the passion and soul of comedy and blend it so seemlessly with music? Dave said, “Oh wow, thank you for that! It comes down to inspiration. Music and musicians have always inspired me. I went to an art and science school so I have always had a high appreciation for the people who make music and for people like John Mayer who are virtuosos of their craft. Sometimes celebrity can be deceptive. A person can be so famous that you forget why they’re so famous and John is great. I love working with musicians. I think we mutually feed each other’s souls.”
What musician inspires you most? When you are looking to get into a creative mindset who do you put on your playlist? “Aretha Franklin is great for that. She sings so well she has the Presidential Medal of Freedom which is a big deal in the United States. Lauren Hill I love to death, John Mayer and Robert Glasper are all consummate virtuosos of their instruments and Prince means a great deal to me personally and professionally.”
Now for your comedy! There is a lot of pressure out there on comedians to censor themselves and be more politically correct. Will you ever be stopped from speaking your truth and give in to the intimidation to conform to fit someone else’s definition of appropriate material? “Being a public person I definitely feel the pressure and the way the social climate is and how social media is, I’ve never felt more pressure than this in my career. But I’m enjoying what I’m doing. I do it with the best of intentions and not everyone is going to be happy and if everyone is, I probably suck and am boring.” I told him I completely agree with him, thanked him for his time and asked for a picture. At that point he smiled for the pic and then Dave Chappelle thanked me for the conversation and told me it was great meeting me! Holy crap!!! I can die now!!! That was AMAZING!!!
Lil Rel Howery has been a very busy man this year acting in movies and TV shows. He was also amongst the elite group of celebrities who served as roasters on the dais for the Comedy Central “Bruce Willis Roast” and those Comedy Central roasts are as Jeff Ross describes “the Super Bowl of comedy.” As breakout comedy person of the year Lil Rel Howery’s star only continues to rise as he has recently had a sitcom picked up by Fox that is simply titled, “Rel.” This show is inspired by his life in Chicago and will be premiering this September. I had the chance to talk to him a little bit about it. Howery said that although the show is based in his hometown of Chicago it’s about more than just his life there. It’s about a man who has gone through a difficult divorce but still has hope that love exists for him while finding the funny and getting big laughs in the process. Extremely funny comedian Sinbad will be featured in the series in the role of Lil Rel’s dad. In addition to Lil Rel Howery, “Rel” credits the very talented Kevin Barnett and Josh Rabinowitz as both writers and executive producers on the show. I’m really looking forward to seeing “Rel” once it hits the airwaves this fall! As for this year’s Just For Laughs comedy festival, Lil Rel is most looking forward to seeing “Dave Chappelle and John Mayer- Controlled Danger.” Rel loves the fact that Dave uses his creativity and talent for comedy to have a new set every time he sees him. Rel finds it interesting to hear Dave’s comedic point of view on whatever is going on right now and added that having a conversation with him is always fun but once Chappelle sets foot on stage he just rockets into a whole other level.
Howie Mandel is not only a legendary comedian, actor and host, he is now also part owner of the most prestigious comedy festival in the world, Just For Laughs. I asked him what the JFL comedy festival has meant to him during his 40 plus year career? Howie replied, “It means to me what it means to everybody. There is no one in comedy, including myself, that hasn’t had this festival make an impact on their career. If they didn’t get their break here, then they were a part of this festival in a different way. They’ve either performed here, launched a show here, or made a connection here. You cannot be a part of comedy and not be a part of Just For Laughs.” Howie spoke on the impact of being on “The Tonight Show” would have on the careers of comedians in the past and how it was that one and only TV spot that solidified your career and really put you on the map as a comedian. Howie shared that the pressure to get on The Tonight Show doesn’t really exist the same way anymore, but for Just For Laughs it does. You have to be here! I followed up and asked if he has a memory of an opportunity or connection he experienced at JFL early on in his career? Mandel shared that for him it’s more about the after effect of watching how important in the world of comedy people he met at JFL became over the years. He then told me a story about how the festival helped to launch the career of his colleague, Tim Allen. Mandel had first met Tim when Allen was working as a reporter on an entertainment show in Detroit and was barely known as a comedian. Tim Allen was lucky enough to play JFL early in his career and it was during that set in which the industry first heard him doing his now signature grunt on stage. From there it was only a matter of time before he was given his own show, “Home Improvement” and the movie deals started rolling in. It’s not always about the destination, it’s also about the journey and in some way, shape or form Just For Laughs has made a lasting impression on the careers of just about everyone in the comedy!
Marc Maron plays the role of B-movie director, Sam Sylvia on “GLOW,” the hilarious Netflix series created by writing team Mensch and Flahive. Maron had the honor of presenting them with their award for comedy writers of the year during the ceremony. Marc told me a little bit about the “GLOW” which was inspired by the show the “Glorious Ladies of Wrestling,” which first aired in 1986. Maron let me know that although the show is inspired by the original series, each of the characters are uniquely written including his own. Maron admits that he did not watch the “Glorious Ladies of Wrestling” documentary until after the first season of “GLOW” was completed so all of his interpretations of his character were a 100% organic reaction to the amazing writing that Carly Mensch and Liz Flahive provide. Jo Coy: Stand-Up Comedian of the Year.
Instead of the “Glorious Ladies of Wrestling” I would like to change it to “The Glorious Ladies of Writing” because the talent that this writing team contains is truly nothing short of glorious! I love a reboot but these two have taken the reboot to a whole other level with the Netflix hit series, “GLOW.” When it comes to the wrestling of the 1980’s I was a big fan of Hulk Hogan and I can still remember watching matches both in live action as well as in the cartoon, “Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling” and amongst the cast of characters there was just one beautiful lady, Miss Elizabeth who hung out with all of these badass men and would often get stuck in the middle of arguments as these big dudes fought over her. As a five year old I was in awe of her beauty and ability to make men swoon but at the same time also wondered why there weren’t more girls around in their circle to balance things out a bit. Carly and Liz agreed and added that back then Elizabeth never even had the opportunity to actually wrestle. She was strictly arm candy and a story line for drama used amongst the men. With “GLOW” these two writers have been able to highlight the badass, athletic side to the strong and often marginalized ladies of wrestling all done through a comedic lens. We talked about how and when they developed the characters for their series. They made a conscious decision to create unique personalities for each of their glorious ladies and not base each wrestler off of the actual ladies that were featured in the original show and documentary. Mensch and Flahive credit the original cast as being amazing sources of inspiration but it was extremely important for them to have the artistic freedom to be able to take each character down whatever journey their writing would dream up and not be limited by character traits or story lines of the past.
Jo Koy received the Stand-up Comedian of the Year award and Howie Mandel was the person to present it to him. One of the things Howie said is that in comedy “you shouldn’t aspire to be the best, you should aspire to do. Get out there and do this thing you love as much as you can do it and that’s how you will get to be great. However, I certainly believe that the person I’m presenting to, Jo Koy, is the best there is.” I shared Howie’s complementary words with Jo and he was extremely humble and kind. He laughingly replied, “Awe, you’re gonna make me cry right now!” Just For Laughs definitely means a lot to Jo Koy and to the trajectory of his career. It took Koy three years of auditioning to finally get on “New Faces,” a staple show at Just For Laughs that features the best newcomers to comedy. Jo shared that he can still remember how hard his heart was pounding when he first learned that he was going to be a “New Face” all those moons ago. In comedy it’s not like you get a certificate or diploma, there are just these kinds of milestones that let you know that you’ve made it to the next level. He was completely grateful for the opportunity and Jo Koy’s grit and perseverance definitely paid off because here he stands today as the Just For Laughs Stand-up Comedian of the Year! What a beautiful journey!!! So, what does the future hold for Jo? What is the next level for this super talented man? He is getting ready to shoot his next special and is confident that he is going to knock it out of the park. Koy completely financed his previous special himself so being recognized for it makes him really happy because he believed in himself enough to literally put his money where his mouth is. Koy was very passionate about the importance of letting your voice be heard and not letting anyone stand in your way, “Anyone who has someone say no to them, keep working and show them why they should have said yes!” Great advice from a great person! Congratulations, Jo Koy!
Tiffany Haddish is a star in the truest sense of the word. She lights up the room with her smile and positive spirit and then makes you feel like you’re talking to an old friend with her openness and compassion. I was really nervous to meet her but as soon as I introduced myself she said, “So nice to meet you Sara! That’s my middle name!” I could tell she was a down to earth person and all of my nervous feelings seemed to disappear. I respect this woman for so much more than her dynamic acting ability and hilarious joke writing. Tiffany Haddish did not have an easy life as a child and even spent some time in the foster care system. I shared with her that in addition to being a comedy nerd, I am also a foster parent and middle school counselor. She was so sweet and actually thanked me for supporting and advocating for these kids and then gave me a big hug and told me that I am changing the world! That was it, we were both being completely real now. I said, “I want you to know that I see so much more than your talent when I see you. I see your strength and your spirit that is so positive and beautiful.” Tiffany said, “thank you, that is a lot of talking to myself” and I let her know that positive self-talk is an awesome skill that can definitely get you through self-doubt and insecurity. She totally agreed and said, “Yes! You need to program yourself!” I then asked her on behalf of all comedy fans in the world, for the kids I counsel and for the foster children I help raise, what advice do you have for those whose spirit has been broken to help them persevere and not give up? Her answer was so heartfelt that it actually brought a tear to my eye! She said, “Ok, you tell them, and look them dead in their eyes when you tell them, that when their spirit is broken, that’s because it’s getting built to be stronger. Like when you lift weights it hurts, it tears you up and can even feel like your body is destroyed. But then you look in the mirror two days later and your muscles are bigger, you can run faster, you can do things you could never do before because you’re stronger now. When you feel like you’re broken, when you feel like they’ve taken everything away from you, and I know what that feels like, they snatch you out of homes and move you here and move you there and you don’t know what is going on, just know that they are getting stronger. You have to tell them to believe in themselves. They have to love and approve of themselves and their world will get better. Tell them that!” I promised her that I would. She then added, “They should also find what it is that they love to do! I don’t care if it’s sleeping, you can get paid to sleep. You can get paid to do anything in this world that you love to do! Tell them to figure out what it is they love and then start working towards doing that.” I thanked her for her openness and asked if I could get a picture of her. She told me to get in the picture with her. Tiffany Haddish is so much more than a beautiful, dynamic actress and comedian. She is also a beautiful spirit with a heart of gold and I wish her all good things!