Montreal Just for Laughs: The Highlights

The thing about the Montreal Just for Laughs Festival, or any comedy festival for that matter, is the number of times you have to make a Sophie’s Choice prioritizing which acts you’d like to see.

It’s especially difficult at JFL, the influential festival that celebrated its 30th anniversary this year, as at any given time festival goers had approximately 15 shows to choose from. Do you go see a one of the New Faces shows, or check out Aziz doing his new special, or maybe watch Anthony Jeselnik or Amy Schumer test run jokes for next week’s taping of the Roseanne Barr Roast? Lots of tough calls.

And to top it off, the final weekend also features a comedy conference and a series of discussions, panels and lectures catering to the omnipresent, back-of-the-room industry people. I made it to a bunch of shows, and they were all really funny. Hard to single out any performances, though keep an eye out for Denver-based comic Ben Roy, who everyone seemed to be talking about all weekend. He’s sort of like Henry Rollins, but with killer jokes, and will probably be on your TV sometime soon.

Anyway, here’s a rundown of some of the conference highlights.

- While attendance for Friday’s Comedy Awards Luncheon at the Montreal Hyatt was sparse, they came out in droves later that evening to watch veteran comic Andy Kindler deliver his 17th State of the Industry speech in the hotel’s Grand Ballroom. Kindler did not disappoint as he shit on the things in entertainment a lot of people would agree are terrible, but would never say out loud in a room packed with agents, managers and other industry executives.

He took on his usual targets of Kevin James, Jay Leno and Robin Williams (“Good Morning, Vietnam was about a country so scarred by war that they found Robin Williams funny”), but he upped the ante this year and closed with a three-minute rant questioning the universal adulation of comedy godhead Louis C.K. (“[Lucky Louie] was not the greatest show on TV. It was a terrible show. It’s never his fault when something’s not good.”) Not sure everybody agreed with his C.K. assessment, but he did receive a standing ovation.

- Friday Night also featured a live table read of Bob’s Burgers with the entire cast, H. Jon Benjamin (Bob), John Roberts (Linda), Dan Mintz (Tina), Kristen Schaal (Louise) and Eugene Mirman (Gene). Paul F. Tompkins served as moderator because the show’s creator, Loren Bouchard, came to Canada with a passport that expired three years ago and was turned away at the border.

The standing-room only event featured the cast reading through the first two scenes of a Thanksgiving episode that will air next season. The cast also talked about the show’s origins and did a lengthy Q and A. We learned that: the cast is rarely in the same room when they record an episode and oftentimes not even in the same state (although they do record simultaneously and play off of each other thanks to the magic of technology); Bob’s Burgers was originally supposed to be a show about a family of cannibals; Dan Mintz’s character, Tina, was originally supposed to be a boy, but they decided on a girl at the last minute and Mintz used the same voice; and the cast doesn’t do much preparation before shows. Benjamin said noted thespian Kevin Kline, who provides a voice for the Thanksgiving episode, was shocked by the lack of preparation. “I think it shook him existentially,” Benjamin said.

- On Saturday afternoon, executives from Funny or Die, My Damn Channel, CollegeHumor, Cracked and other outlets participated in a panel discussion called The Funniest Freaking Videos on the Web. It was an interesting talk on the state of web videos and where the industry is headed. Mike Farah, Funny or Die’s president of production, pointed out how the top YouTube channels would rank among the top cable networks in terms of viewers, and how the major portals (Yahoo, Amazon, etc.) are now constantly looking for content creators, which wasn’t happening even six months ago. Discussion also centered the benefits of one-off videos, Funny or Die’s specialty, vs. web series, which is the domain of My Damn Channel (Wainy Days has been on for five seasons). Sam Reich, CollegeHumor’s president of original content, summed it up this way: “One offs are like stocks, series are like bonds.” Each panelist also picked their favorite web video. Farah’s was The Wire: The Musical video, Reich’s was the Dora the Explorer movie trailer, and My Damn Channel CEO Rob Barnett’s was the pilot episode of Daddy Knows Best.

On the whole, a solid festival. Looking forward to next year’s.

Phil Davidson has been to Montreal a dozen times and still can’t speak a lick of French.

Montreal Just for Laughs: The Highlights