The following piece is from one of our contest winners Courtney Gilmour.
This year I attended my first ever Just For Laughs festival thanks to a few kind people at TooFarTV who generously reward cyberstalking. Their Twitter contest led to me winning passes for the JFL ComedyPro Series conference and ultimately having the best, most impromptu weekend of my life. I learned many important things in Montreal, like how cool smoking is, and that people lose their minds every time the Just For Laughs intro music starts up. He are some highlights:
I knew Jimmy would be a perfect kickstart to the festival. Even though he rejects the ‘angry comic’ title – and rightfully so, it’s reductive and his comedy is much more than that – this man still terrifies and intimidates me. So, naturally I sat front row. Norton was an obvious choice for this keynote considering his outspoken views on freedom of expression, but his speech was not simply a 45-minute harangue about the plight of today’s comics. It was an insightful speech exploring comedy as social narrative and the comic’s need to rub out lines in the sand. I’ve always appreciate Norton’s disdain for phoniness, and how artfully he calls it out. He made too many excellent points to list, you can listen to the speech here. Just know that Jimmy nailed it and, as Tom Papa noted in his intro, he looks like a sea turtle. Tsss.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine Q&A
I enjoy Brooklyn Nine-Nine but haven’t seen every episode, so I felt a little misplaced in a sea of die-hard fans. However, I was eager to see Chelsea Peretti and Andy Samberg – two of my favourites both for their roles in the show and their comedy careers, respectively. Creator Michael Shur spoke affectionately about the cast and how the series came to be. Terry Crews, a hulking boulder of a man, stole the show every time he spoke with hilarious stories of jokes on set. All cast members gushed over Andy Samberg, who sat and smiled humbly with that “aw gee, thanks mom” face we all know by now. Chelsea Peretti was funny and dreamy and did not say nearly enough.
Homegrown Comic Competition
This show was my priority that weekend considering a number of friends and colleagues were competing. Homegrown is a festival staple, showcasing the country’s top comedians and giving them a chance to perform for the reigning title of ‘Homegrown Comic’. If this show sucked I would tell you. Luckily, it didn’t. Everyone was on point and even during the minimal weaker points of some sets, the audience was encouraging and energetic. Host Debra DiGiovanni did a stellar job of keeping things lively and fast paced and in the end the crown went to Toronto’s DJ Demers, with runner up Alex Pavone. Well deserved on both fronts. I was so proud of everyone there and almost teared up with emotion, but instead I just bought another drink.
Andy Kindler’s State Of The Industry Address
Andy Kindler the provocateur returned for his notorious State Of The Industry Address; a steady stream of lambasting, and it was glorious. Some of this year’s culprits included Bill Maher, Jimmy Fallon, Jay Leno, Mindy Kaling, Anthony Cumia x1000, and of course himself throughout the whole tirade. T.J. Miller introduced, which was highly amusing (I regret not seeing more of T.J. during the festival) and there was a bit of back and forth banter to usher us into the barrage of celebrity blows. Again I sat near the front so I could feel the sweat and hear “They can’t all be gems, folks!” up close and personal. Brilliant.
Just For Laughs Awards
Unlike the conventional Hollywood awards shows, this one has all of the recipients pre-selected and sitting on stage. Also, this one celebrates things that are actually funny. When you have a line up of comedy’s best sitting within inches of each other, you really don’t need the perpetual “who’s going to win?” mystique to maintain interest. Winners included Andy Samberg, Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg, Bill Burr (whose acceptance speech deserved an award for ‘most satisfyingly concise’), Michael Schur, and Nathan Fielder. Pete Holmes hosted the show with many clever quips and self-deprecating jabs in light of a mostly non-comic audience who didn’t know who he was. Well done.
Variety’s ‘10 Comics To Watch’
I had the joy of taking someone to their very first stand up show ever (!) and the fact that it was a ‘best of the best’ line up at Just For Laughs in Montreal made it that much sweeter. Variety’s top picks didn’t disappoint. The show was hosted by Nikki Glaser and the 10 comics to watch were Cristela Alonzo, Pete Davidson, Fortune Feimster, Nathan Fielder (didn’t perform), Ron Funches, Harvard Sailing Team, Grace Helbig, The Lucas Brothers, Greg Poehler, and Lena Waithe. Our personal top picks were Fortune Feimster, Pete Davidson, and Ron Funches. I wanted to love Greg Poehler, even after his expected name drop as Amy’s younger brother, but his set just wasn’t very strong. Perhaps an off night, or maybe he’s funnier in Sweden.
Pitch ‘Til Your Sides Split
This was a web series pitching session where panelists from various media outlets (CollegeHumor, Yahoo, Maker Studios) judged pitch presentations, offered constructive feedback, then selected a winner to receive a full-year membership in the International Academy of Web Television as well as an option agreement from Defy Media. The win went to Aurora Brown and Nadine Djoury’s series “Newborn Moms”, which was unsurprising; fantastic trailer, fantastic pitch.
OFF JFL Bonus Shows:Mark Forward
After my cabbie dropped me off at a venue that wasn’t the Montreal Improv, I went to see Mark Forward at the Montreal Improv. I hadn’t seen him perform live before but his comedy via YouTube and Twitter was recommended to me by a friend a couple of years ago. Since then I have been a frequent listener to his podcast, which he hosts with Eric Andrews and is consistently hilarious and sorely underrated. That night he was doing approximately 47 shows consecutively, so Kyle Radke opened for him and did a great job warming up a sparse crowd. The room had less than forty audience members crammed tight into what looked and felt like a basement, so belly laughs might have seemed like a tall order. If Mark Forward thought so, no one noticed. Between tales of chipmunk family dysfunction, overindulged children named “Dante”, and pointing out two girls in the front row wearing the same dress, the laughter was unremitting from the first joke to the last. We left with sore throats.
Andy Kindler’s Alternative Show
I had been anticipating the Alternative Show all weekend as Kindler’s choice of alt comics usually seem to be aligned with my own taste. The bill was stacked and I can’t remember every comic now, but the ones who stuck out most prominently were James Adomian (and his brilliant Kindler impression), Brody Stevens, another fun Mark Forward appearance, and the champion of the evening and universe, Paul F. Tompkins. It was a fun and absurd night that ended on the highest note, thanks to Tompkins’ jovial energy, well crafted jokes, and pronunciation of “ghostBUSTers”.
Big thanks to TooFarTV and JFLComedyPro for an excellent weekend!