If you think it’s tough going to music festivals and deciding between which bands you want to see, try going to Montreal’s Just For Laughs Festival.
What do you do when your plans to see a new comic everyone says is the next big thing are interrupted by a sudden announcement that simultaneously one of your favorite comedians will be performing a surprise set to 40 people at an underground club across town? That pretty much sums up Just For Laughs. It’s maddening.
Being a Just For Laughs newbie, I went where the crowds were. Here’s a recap of some of the final weekend’s events.
Louise C.K. Q&A
OK, we (and by we, I mean just about everyone who follows comedy) are starting to approach cult of personality territory with Louis C.K. It’s hard not to, though; he’s just that funny. Needless to say a standing-room only crowd of fans and industry folks packed the Hyatt Grand Ballroom Friday afternoon to watch C.K. field questions from Richard Crouse, film critic for CTV’s Canada AM.
It was a tad surreal to watch several up-and-coming and even some well-known comics wait in line for the opportunity to hear C.K speak, but that they did, in addition to hanging on to his every word during the hour-long discussion. The conversation covered C.K.’s writing process, how he landed the deal to make Louie, and fame’s ephemeral nature, among other topics.
Here are a few of the highlights.
C.K. doesn’t believe in writing.
“If you write it first, you’re putting a bunch of filters on it…If you write stand-up, you’re generating it on paper, then you’re reading it and using your memory and interpreting it as speech.”
He likes to test out material at places like Zanies in Nashville, where people go to drink beer and eat chicken wings.
“They’re good people and they laugh fuckin’ hard, but they’re not going to go for nuanced bullshit.”
He touts playing shows to shitty crowds.
“It develops good skills for a smart comic to go do shitty shows for drunks.”
“You get hired by a college to do a show and you go to their little café. And they give you no microphone…, and you’re like ‘hey guys, this is a show now.’ And people are like ‘hey man, I’m just trying to study.’”
C.K. isn’t a fan of describing his own brand of comedy.
“I know how I sort of do it now. Where I generate material from is whatever thoughts are burning in my brain, I just say it…It’s just festering thoughts in my head.”
In hindsight, he should exercised better judgment before he broadcast to his 500,000 Twitter followers that Sarah Palin has Chinese people living in her cunt. But he didn’t like the way she was exploiting her child with Down Syndrome on the campaign trail. He went to a summer camp with special needs children.
“I was around all these kids who had Down syndrome. I didn’t know that’s what it was called, these were my friends.”
“The average human being is so awful. That’s why Down syndrome kids have to stay together…If everything was right, everybody would be in jail and there would be like 18 Down syndrome people.”
He’s content with his fame.
“I don’t want to get any more famous than this. At all.”
“The more famous you get, the trickier it gets…I have control of it. I can work less hard.”
“You don’t sell tickets forever.”
He’s not sure he wants to do more than three seasons of Louie.
“If they give me a third season, I’ll do another. I love it…But I don’t want to keep doing it just to have the job.”
“We’ll see after three seasons if it’s any good… I’d like to make movies.”
State of the Industry with Andy Kindler
Veteran Comic Andy Kindler took the Grand Ballroom stage following C.K. to deliver his 16th Annual State of the Industry address, though a more fitting title would be “Watch Andy Kindler Burn Bridges in Hollywood and Not Give a Shit About It.”
Kindler also played to a nearly standing room-only crowd. His speech, a favorite among the comedy cognoscenti, drew several well-known comics, including Brody Stevens, Marc Maron, Brian Posehn and, Paul F. Tompkins, who introduced Kindler.
“For those keeping score, the Kevin James hatred is up 80 percent, the Robin Williams hatred is down 70 percent, and for Jay Leno, it’s a push,” Tompkins said. Kindler got things started with a little self-deprecating humor.
“I refuse to play theaters, cause I don’t want to be in a cavernous room with 30 people.”
But quickly he turned his scorn toward a list including James, Jimmy Fallon, George Lopez, Eddie Izzard, Larry the Cable Guy, Craig Ferguson, Dennis Miller, Bill Maher, Judah Friedlander, and frequent object of his derision, Dane Cook.
“Eddie Izzard, I heard he was doing his act in French. That’s not pretentious.”
“I will be burning all my Dennis Miller VHS tapes. I like that joke cause his specials are on tape.”
“What the hell happened to that guy?”
“I went to a zoo and a tiger told me to stay away from that Kevin James movie.”
“My cat said he’s fully capable of speaking, but he’s afraid it would turn me into a Kevin James vehicle.”
“Do you know that George Lopez has to have a physical comedy checkup every year?”
“Good news George, we got your tests back, you are 100 percent free of comedy.”
“I’m surprised he doesn’t have carpel tunnel… in his face!”
Kindler’s hour-long speech lost a little steam towards the end, but he had the audience howling for a good portion of it.
Though none of them are performers by trade, you wouldn’t know it by the number of laughs the showrunners of The Simpsons, 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, and Modern Family generated during an hour-long panel discussion entitled Showrunners: The Kingpins of TV.
Bill Carter of the New York Times and author of The War for Late Night moderated the panel, which featured The Simpsons’ David Mirkin and Mike Reiss, 30 Rock’s Robert Carlock, Parks and Recreation’s Michael Schur and Modern Family’s Steve Levitan.
Much of the discussion centered around the resurgence of television comedies and how the single-camera format helped lead the charge. Mirkin, who was the show runner for the early 90’s cult classic Get a Life, said back then it was hard to find a crew that knew how to direct single-camera sitcoms.
Reiss said because single-camera shows were cheaper to produce than the traditional three-camera format, they resulted in less interference from know-nothing executives in charge.
“Their jobs are to turn junk into crap,” he said.
Levitan posited that there was a time when single camera shows weren’t considered as funny, and writers and producers felt it was too risky a format. “Over time, audiences became educated, as well as writers, who felt like they could just trust the jokes,” he said.
Levitan also opined, and no one disagreed, that the renaissance in television comedy may have started with The Office. He said he and Modern Family co-creator Christopher Lloyd decided to adopt The Office’s documentary style and allow characters to speak directly to the camera because you don’t have to worry about exposition anymore and it changes up a scene’s pacing if it’s moving too slow.
“I never want to shoot any other way ever again,” he said.
Schur, whose show also utilizes the documentary format, was in agreement. “This is the real gift of The Office,” he said.
Other highlights of the discussion included defining what a showrunner does and life inside the writers’ room. Carlock’s expressed some humility and described running a show as a collaborative process.
“A showrunner makes all of the ultimate decisions about what goes on camera while knowing nothing about what each department actually does,” he said.
Mirkin chose a different tack. “To me a showrunner is a godlike genius,” he said.
Levitan said the writers room is a place where otherwise normal adults sit around and tell masturbation stories, to which Mirkin replied, “Oh you guys just tell stories?” Reiss said The Simpsons has 23 writers and only does 22 episodes per year.
“So you only need one good idea, and one guy doesn’t have to do shit, and that’s why I’m here,” he said, adding that writers have much more fun talking about miscellany like how Danny Thomas liked to eat poop for four hours than actually working on the show.
Phil Davidson apologizes for neglecting to bring a camera to Just For Laughs. That was a real boner he pulled.