40 Things I Learned in 2014 at Montreal’s Just For Laughs

Every year, I think I know what to expect heading into Montreal’s grand poobah of comedy festivals — Just For Laughs — only to realize I still have much to learn.

Here are some of the things I learned from the 2014 edition of JFL Montreal:

  1. Tuesday is the new Wednesday. I thought I’d go up a day earlier than usual so I could take in more shows and do so without all of the industry asking for advice or circling the talent. Seems as though several agents also had the same idea this year!
  2. Jerrod Carmichael is the real deal. His headlining run at Theatre Ste. Catherine was the show everyone wanted to see, and for good reason.
  3. Jimmy Carr has a thing about hecklers. I knew about this British comedian’s penchant for naughty wordplay, but didn’t realize until seeing Jimmy Carr’s full hour how much he loves to reel in potential hecklers and show off how quick and biting his wit truly is.
  4. Take away the morning radio microphone or any semblance of a debate, and Jim Norton’s sincerity shines through. Never more evident, perhaps, than when Norton delivered the Keynote Address, “I Insincerely Apologize.” JFL’s pick proved more prescient and perfect than even they’d hoped.
  5. Andy Kindler’s State of The Industry is Our New “Network.” Kindler always packs the room with appreciative comedians and industry eager to hear how he’ll skewer all of them, but in consecutive years, he’s also dedicating the anchor of his speech to call out who he sees as most villainous. If he’s mad as hell and not going to take it anymore, then I’ll be right there with him to shout it out my window.
  6. Greg Proops and T.J. Miller are two of the smartest guys in the room — Proops even brands his podcast with such a superlative — but watching them improvise and riff in a variety of shows and formats over the course of a week, it’s an amazing spectacle. Made more spectacular by how differently Proops and Miller approach the stage and the audience. Both so captivating as they capitalize on being on top of the moment.
  7. Michelle Wolf would have made out big-time from her New Faces showcase, if she wasn’t already secured in a great high-profile gig as a writer/performer on Late Night with Seth Meyers. Wolf has come so far since I first saw her as a background player in BoF’s sketch shows. Kudos to BoF’s Mamrie Hart and Steve Soroka, then, for the early scouting!
  8. The late John Pinette was so beloved by Just For Laughs, the festival put together a video tribute for him that played before the Galas.
  9. At the Mega-Stars of Comedy Gala, video intros for each headliner broadcast past Gala performances of theirs. I joked to the future mega-star I was sitting with, what would you do if your intro included a joke you planned on telling that night? That happened that night to Loni Love!?
  10. Seth Rogen pulled out all the stops for his Gala. His “Hilarity For Charity” already had the appeal of raising money for the National Alzheimer’s Association. But Rogen, who started stand-up as a Canadian teen, also brought Montreal Canadiens star P.K. Subban with the Stanley Cup (which Rogen chugged out of, pictured above), and could call on Joseph Gordon-Levitt to perform an acoustic number in French? Mon Dieu!
  11. The Brooklyn Nine-Nine cast loves each other, isn’t afraid to heap that admiration on star Andy Samberg, and much credit must go to casting director Allison Jones for putting this all together. I sat down with the cast for interviews that I’ll share with you soon enough.
  12. My hometown is the Eagleton to Mike Schur’s Pawnee?!? Schur, co-creator of Parks and Recreation (in addition to Brooklyn Nine-Nine), lit up when found out I grew up in Simsbury, Conn., and quickly let me know how his West Hartford felt an inferior complex that inspired the running plotline in Parks and Rec. Although, truth be told, isn’t Avon the real enemy?
  13. Bill Burr is a mensch. Upon learning he’d won the festival’s “Stand-Up Comedian of the Year” award, he handpicked Boston comedy legend Tony V to make the trek up to Montreal to present him with it. And Tony (who co-starred with Burr in last year’s The Heat) returned the favor with a heartfelt anecdote that reminded everyone of how significant Burr’s performance at an Opie and Anthony comedy show in Philadelphia was eight years ago.
  14. Luisa Omielan had a new show ready to for Edinburgh Fringe this month (Am I Right, Ladies?), but she picked a great time to close out her performances asking What Would Beyonce Do?
  15. Kurt Metzger also already has most of his next hour ready to record, but that should not stop you from checking out his brand-new hour and album via Comedy Central, “White Precious.”
  16. Kent Alterman wrote himself a funny script to introduce Nathan Fielder as the “Breakout Comedy Performer of the Year,” but the most important and best thing he had to say was an immediate renewal of Nathan For You for a third season.
  17. Walking the streets around Place Des Arts, you’re quickly reminded of the other Just For Laughs — the JFL that’s broadcasting gags and pranks in your in-flight entertainment or even on TV in some countries. That’s evident when you’re watching street performers, only to have other other covert street performances play out in front of you, from a nun smoking and drinking out of a flask, to a battered bride, to two little people struggling to move large cardboard boxes down the avenue.
  18. Prostitution is legal, yes? Oui? N’est-ce pas? At least it remains out in the open in French Canada, as a street walker working her corner propositioned me in the evening. Coincidentally or not, the nearby Theatre Ste. Catherine was advertising the “Midnight Surprise” show that week.
  19. Stars both present and immediately past present of Saturday Night Live were given plenty of stages to perform upon at JFL. Last year, SNL found two new cast members from the New Faces showcases — even if both Brooks Wheelan and John Milhiser were then let go this summer. My pick for a new cast member on SNL or any sketch show or sitcom? Holly Laurent.
  20. Who would have guessed that more than one stand-up in New Faces would sing opera? Or that it might happen in the same showcase? And yet, Jesse Elias and Matteo Lane both chose to spring some aural aria on us.
  21. Lewis Black has some bad-news, good-news for anyone who has to undergo a colonoscopy. You’ll have to catch Black’s current stand-up tour or ask him to rant about it if he doesn’t already.
  22. Kathleen Madigan doesn’t know The Villages like I do. In her set for the Mega-Stars of Comedy Gala, Madigan joked (in error) about the age rules for visitors and residents to this rapidly-growing adult active mega-community in central Florida, where both her relatives and mine now live. Or if she’s not in error, then I’m already acting much older than my age.
  23. Gabriel Iglesias suggested a great name for the now-Anthony-less Opie and Anthony show: “Opie and Agony.” It seemed a shame, though, that JFL only had Iglesias in Montreal for less than 24 hours to host his own gala — and didn’t have at least one screening, public or private, for his new concert film, The Fluffy Movie.
  24. All the comedians who performed on the two Don Rickles Galas hold the 88-year-old insult comedian in great reverence. Even if they were uncertain of what to make of his slightly creepy bathrobe attire offstage.
  25. Ryan Hamilton earned himself a weeklong headlining run this year based on his strong showings in Galas last year. If only they’d put him in a bigger room than the small Salle within Place Des Arts. Although the intimate venue really allowed Hamilton to work that room.
  26. That same side room in PDA also hosted the lively revival of The Green Room with Paul Provenza. It might never be coming back to Showtime. But put any four or five stand-ups in a semi-circle with Provenza and just let ’em rip. You’re bound to be entertained and enlightened.
  27. Could they pick two better shows for strip club Cafe Cleopatra than Ari Shaffir’s This Is Not Happening and Dave Attell’s Comedy Underground? Highlights of the fest! Shaffir’s storytelling series is a Comedy Central webseries making the jump to TV later this year, while Attell’s stand-up showcase enjoyed a late-night debut run on the network earlier in 2014. Hopefully there’s more to come from both.
  28. Al Madrigal was funnier as his week’s run at Underworld went on, which tells me that both The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and About A Boy need to give him more screen time in the year to come so everyone can see on their TVs what we’re seeing in front of us.
  29. John Heffron, who had an early life in morning radio in Detroit, is cooking up something fun on our app-based radio with Rhapsody. Stay tuned for more details on that.
  30. I’ve got a great new app idea for JFL to streamline the New Faces development talent grab for the industry. Think of it as TinderForLaughs. Set it to find any unrepresented comedians within 50 or 100 feet of you, and if you like them and they like you, a simple swipe or two can sign them up to a hip-pocket deal!
  31. Robert Kelly, who just filmed a new hour of his stand-up, is looking to take it to the big screen with a run at independent film festivals. First stop: Rhode Island.
  32. It’d been four years since Last Comic Standing, and the revival of Last Comic — particularly with its emphasis on the Top 100 Invitationals — showed quite an overlap with the New Faces showcases. If you’d been watching Last Comic this summer, then several of these faces shouldn’t have been new to you.
  33. Kumail Nanjiani’s parents had some delightfully twisted reactions to his winning “Beta Male” Comedy Central special and DVD. You should hear Nanjiani tell it to you in a live show. Suffice it to say, his mother was a bit more opinionated about it than his father was.
  34. Did everyone buy new shoes for their showcases, or did it just seem that way? Lots of shiny footwear on display from New Faces to Galas.
  35. This was the first year in eight that I didn’t make it up the hill north of Sherbrooke to the shows along St. Laurent. Sorry, performers at Mainline or Wiggle Room (that means you, Paul F. Tompkins and Friends, and you, Fortune Feimster, Adrienne Truscott, Adomia’N Friends) and especially you, Schwartz’s Deli smoked meat.
  36. James Adomian once again was/is a force to be recognized, stamping his imprint and impressions all over this festival. For 2014, he even made a special video, Hardball Canada! Roll the clip.
  37. No strike by the Hyatt’s workers this year (good news), but can we do something about the lack of free wifi in and around JFL HQ (troubling capitalist news worth striking over)? Please?
  38. Also, it was an unfortunate coincidence that all of the Galas, speeches and festival awards focused on white men in 2014. It must have been an oversight. After all, Amy Schumer was originally scheduled for a Gala but had to excuse herself so she could wrap production on her major motion picture! And in 2013, Montreal hosted galas for several women (Whitney Cummings, Sarah Silverman and Joan Rivers, to name a few).
  39. So maybe how’s about we make sure the 2015 Keynote Address comes from someone who’s not a white guy! Wanda Sykes, Chelsea Handler, Amy Schumer, Judy Gold, Joan Rivers, Ellen DeGeneres. There. That’s five ladies I’d love to hear tell us where the comedy world stands and should stand in 2015.
  40. Nevertheless, I’m amazed and impressed by just how great Montreal’s Just For Laughs is year-in, year-out. Even more so this summer. And this last weekend in July, when JFL somehow found competition both from California with Comic-Con luring big names from Comedy Central and Adult Swim, and from Dublin’s Vodafone Comedy Festival pulling other stand-ups across the pond.

Already counting the days ’til July 2015.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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2 thoughts on “40 Things I Learned in 2014 at Montreal’s Just For Laughs

  1. Ryan Hamilton is a great comic–very clever, carefully crafted sets. But the buzz of the comedy world should be the meteoric rise via Last Comic Standing of Rod Man and Joe Machi (I had already been a fan of Lachlan Patterson from his debut cd and Nikki Carr is fine performer, but not a very good writer).

    Rod Man has great performance skills and Machi’s jokes are the most clever and unpredictable I have heard in years.

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