Wednesday, July 20, 2005


Just For Laughs 2005: WEDNESDAY

Seven years? Let's see... '99, '00, ummm... That's right, this is our seventh year covering the Just For Laughs Festival. Each year, right before we take off, we think something terrible will happen-- This will be the year that JFL won't grant us Media passes and won't let us back in to cover it. This will be the year that we won't be able to write about anything. This'll be the year that we've finally pissed off so many people that we'll round the corner at the Delta we'll be reviled; the object of scorn.

Of course, it's probably just the fatigue talking. The road will do that. As will oppresssive heat and humidity. Bounced checks, the usual. Whatever it is, it's totally unfounded. Hell, if Andy Kindler is welcome up here year after year, after saying the vicious things he says, anyone is welcome, right? What is one year of our humble publication's squeaks and moans compared to his annual hourlong tirades? Nothing! We're here. Again! We do no harm. We cause no consternation, we are merely a diversion. A cat toy to the giant striped tabby that is the standup comedy industry!

Having said that, we took precautions. We changed our appearance. The Male Half of the Staff bleached his hair and now looks like a member of the '02 Rumanian national soccer team. The Female Half went jet black. Perhaps we'll escape any possible scorn by claiming mistaken identity.

Of course, there's a danger in changing one's appearance at a gathering such as this one. If you don't look like you usually do, there's the increased possibility that someone will "go owl" on you. That's a term we coined at SHECKYmagazine HQ. It's when you accost someone whom you've had meaningful dialogue with in the past, you say your name and they say, "Who?" It's very strange to experience. It can get to you if you let it. ("I can't believe it! We talked for a half an hour! He showed me pictures of his dog! Six months later, I see him, the sonofabitch went owl on me!") It's just a symptom of sensory overload. Sensory overload combined with life-altering schmoozing and anxiety over sets yet to be performed or sets past. Fortunately, it doesn't happen often. If we contribute anything to this crazy world, let it be the term "he went owl on me!" (Note: We even have variations on it, in case it eventually suffers from overuse. Consider: "He went strigiform on me!" A bit more eclectic or intellectual, but it gets the point across.) (Editors note: 72 hours later, comedian Greg Rogell showed SHECKYmagazine editor Brian McKim a photograph of his dog. This is strictly coincidental. The above comments do not mean to imply that Mr. Rogell would ever "go owl" on Mr. McKim.)

Our Festival contact, upon laying our laminates on us (and upon seeing us flip them over to see which venues the bearer was entitled to enter with said laminate), said, "It doesn't get you into a whole lot." Indeed! And the list grows smaller every year!

Fortunately, one of the places we can get into is the Monument National. It's a theater and they're screening three of the four of the films we dearly want to see this year: "Hell Gig Reunion," which is the presentation of the edited footage shot during the Hell Gig America ("50 Days, 50 Shows, 50 States!") and will be marked by an appearance by all three of the principal comics from the tour, John Wessling, Tommy Drake and Chuck Savage. "Patriot Act," a short film directed by Jeffery Ross, a documentary about Drew Carey and others performing in Iraq. And "The Comedians of Comedy Tour," a docu about four comedians (Brian Posehn, Patton Oswalt, Maria Bamford and Zach Galifianakis) on tour.

The other movie, at the Imperial Cinema, is "The Aristocrats." We've posted a ton on that and you know the deal.

Brian McKim, Howard Lapides, Eramelinda Boquer, Adam Gilad, Kent Emmons, Traci Skene at the Delta!

We headed over to the Delta last night with the ultimate intention of heading over to Monument National (it's a theater, not a monument) to see "Hell Gig Reunion," the hastily edited and cut final product of over 200 hours of video shot during the Hell Gig America Tour.

Tommy Drake, Chuck Savage and John Wessling at the Monument National

And there they were, Tommy Drake, Chuck Savage and John Wessling, being interviewed by the CJAD folks in the Delta mezzanine. After their interview, we were invited to plug our humble publication to all the CJAD audience as well! (Which we did.) Also conducting the interrogation were Kent Emmons, chairman and founder of Comedy Express TV and Adam Gilad, programming director of National Lampoon Radio (of which Mr. Emmons is also the chairman and CEO).

We knew that Wessling intended to make a movie out of the adventure, but we had no idea we'd be seeing the finished product. this soon. During the changeover, we secured tickets to the screening from Drake, and headed over as soon as we got off the air.

As Wessling tells it, the three (and their respective better halves) were in the airport in Hawaii, finished with the Hell Gigs and awaiting a flight back to the Mainland, when an email from the JFL folks asked if they could exhibit the filmed record of their adventure six weeks hence in Montreal.

50 days of hell gigs were then followed up by six weeks of frantic editing- all leading up to this evening. The exhausted threesome presented their baby last night to an appreciative crowd at the MN, then took Q & A for a while afterward. (We hasten to add that, during the Q & A Wessling thanked the fine folks at for their assistance in getting out the word-- as well as our table mate (and SHECKYmagazine Big Mover), Paul Ogata, for his assistance in swinging the Kona, Hawaii, venue, which turned out to be a bowling alley!)

Paul Ogata at the Comedia presentation of "Hell Gig Reunion" at Monument National

XMRadio's Joel Haas was also in attendance. Haas and XM lent support to the Hell Gig tour and the Roady made it into a few shots, but, as Haas noted with exasperation, "It was never turned on!!"

The film did a splendid job of portraying comics as normal people. Creative people, to be sure. But most people envision travelling comics zooming down the highway mooning other drivers or tossing televisions into the pool. Drake noted that of the 50 gigs, 37 were actually paid gigs. "And the money we made was enough to cover... tolls... and some gas." Also appearing in the film were Ralphie May, Carl Labove, Marc Ryan, Peter Grumbine, Sandy Hackett and Schully. There was a particularly touching sequence that featured interviews with the recently departed Mitch Hedberg's parents.

(Also worth noting: Our own Big Mover, Ogata, was in town coincidentally to attend the FantAsia Film Festival ( Seems he was the featured performer in a short film, "Amazing Asian," which was part of the Asian film festival's superhero-oriented "Square Jaw Theatre." Check out Ogata's website. Ogata assures SHECKYmagazine readers that the move to L.A. is imminent and that he'll bang out an installment or two of The Big Move when it happens!)

Brian McKim and Jon Dore

The Homegrown Comedy Competition, hosted by Jon Dore, was held Wednesday night at Cabaret Music Hall. The winner was Kyle Radke and Kelly Taylor came in second. The participants were: Mark Bennett, Jasen Frederickson, Jy Harris, Dylan Mandlsohn, Ben Miner, Erica Sigurdson and Kwasi Thomas.

We had the pleasure of working with Kelly Taylor at last year's Calgary FunnyFest. And we also had the pleasure of being present the very first time Mr. Dore ever mounted a stage. It was at the now defunct Goodfellows in Ottawa, in 1998! (We remember the year, because we were enthralled by the CBC coverage of the Nagano Olympics-- live, a lot of it! The Female Half of the Staff was especially enamored of the curling coverage (her Scottish heritage?) and was, for a time, the only American comic doing a Sandra Schmirler (may she rest in peace) impression!

The Delta reached critical mass at about midnight. Not a sweaty, heaving mass like on the weekends, but a healthy, party-size crowd. And what would a gathering at JFL's Delta be without a conga line of transvestites? The Kinsey Sicks, on the Evening at Eve's Tavern, are men. Let it sink in: Evening at Eve's Tavern... all-girl show... men... in dresses. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but the Female Half of the Staff was disturbed at the Las Vegas Fest a coupla years back when the all-girl show she was on was hosted by famous cross-dresser Kenny Kerr. "Stop with the chicks with dicks on the all-girls shows!" she implores. "Aren't there enough funny vaginas to go around?" She also points out the irony of the transvestites being the only "women" on the bill wearing dresses! PS, she adds: They'e not chicks with dicks, rather, they are men with boobs! (Since dying the hair black, she has become "Evil Traci!" A rather soap operatic doppelganger that is a bit edgier than her old, blonde self.)

The other folks on the Eve's Tavern show (who were anatomically correct) were: Kathleen Madigan, Deb DiGiovanni, Kyra Soltanovich, Sommore, Tracy Esposito, Kitty Flanagan and Erin Foley.

While waiting in line for a Labatt's, we were greeted warmly by Chrysi Rubin, the proprietor of the Edmonton Yuk Yuks, whom, you may recall was heavily featured in our postings on the Andy Dick row last April. In tow was her father as well (the owner of the joint)!

We head over to Just For Pitching this afternoon. One of the potential pitchers assured us that he had closely studied our coverage of the past two Just For Pitchings! How about that? We're able to help out!

We had some tech difficulties this AM, but they've been ironed out with the use of Picasa (a free photo editing and uploading utility from Google) and hello (an adjunct program to Picasa) that has enabled us to upload our pics to our blog when our FTP client failed to let us into the server! We highly recommend both programs in a pinch!

Take me to THURSDAY'S Update!

Thursday, July 21, 2005


Just For Laughs 2005: THURSDAY

It looks rather like one of those engagement pictures in the Times, does it not? Actually, it's just that Gary Gulman and Traci Skene are good at posing. Both appear to be the color of eggplants. Neither are, in reality, the color of eggplants.

The identities of the New Faces has been leaked.
W. Kamu Bell
Joe DeRosa
Rachel Feinstein
Joe Koy
Jamie Kaler
Jay Larson
April Macie
James Smith
Michael Somerville
Ryan Wilner
Craig Baldo
Andy Campbell
Alan Carr
Dan Cummins
Felipe Esparza
Rhod Gilbert
Louis Katz
Natasha Leggero
Jasper Redd
Sugar Sammy
A couple of those names are rather familiar, no? We've seen Craig Baldo's name somewhere... and didn't Ryan Wilner come in second in the Homegrown competition in 1999? Mind you we're not complaining. Maybe the criteria are changing... or the aim of the showcase. Hmmm... And Sugar Sammy was one of the pitchers in Just For Pitching last year, we think. Maybe Just For Pitching is a back door into the JFL. Is "back door" a pejorative term? No. Just a term.

Franz Harary (left) in intense, post-pitching mode with Moses Znaiman. Harary's "Beat the Chimp" game show idea was a hoot!

Speaking of Just For Pitching, the bleachers at Delta ballroom jammed with the usual "sellout" crowd for this year's edition of the pitch party. As usual, Pat Ferns, the mastermind of the whole thing, was dead center. The panel of suits had changed somewhat, with only Brent Haynes, from CTV, the only repeater from JFP's past. The other were, from left to right (if you were a pitcher), Anton Leo (CBC), Moses Znaimer (MZTV), Graham Smith (Channel 5/U.K.), Samie Falvey (Fox) and Stuart Krasnow (Krasnow Productions). We were disappointed that there was no Anne Maney (Fox), as she usually provides the most yocks from the Exec side of the aisle. But Znaimer, a Fest rookie, more than made up for Maney's absence with his droll delivery, his weary demeanor, his astute observations-- and he provided actual belly laughs when he repeatedly antagonized colleague Haynes, who was on Znaimer's immediate right. (Znaimer's delivery is Eeyore meets Garrison Keillor, to put it in the pitching vernacular.) Their back and forth was worth the price of admission. It's always fun to see suits get into a somewhat philosophical discussion of the biz. Even more so when one of the suits (Haynes in this case) regularly spouts puzzling-- and somewhat horse manuric (is that a word?)-- statements. Haynes isn't the only one, of course. They all spin out a steady stream of such statements-- they all seem to be quoting from a sort of an I Ching of television production. ("The days of taking a fat guy, giving him a hot wife and building a successful sitcom around it are gone." "The current situation is liberating but's an inspiring time to be in comedy... but it's scary.") At least they all got through the afternoon without once using the word "interstitial!" (Whither Comedy Central's Lew Wallach?)

Jay Malone & Mark Bennett, Franz Harary, Gord Paynter, D.C. Benny & Jason Sokoloff, Peter Grumbine, Julia Morris, Carole Ducharme and Joe Matarese & Matt Bellace were the eight pitchers/teams and the eight pitches moved quite well. Overall quality was up from last year.

The sitcom is the hardest thing to pitch in this setting. Four sitcoms were pitched with varying degrees of success-- "Hostel House," "Blind Faith" "The Home" and "Over The Rainbows."

Julia Morris (wearing a tiara!) and illusionist Franz Harary used their personalities very well to sell their ideas and both pitches were peppy in the execution and garnered lots of laughs and much positive feedback. They may have been the only two who didn't complain about the five-minute time restriction for pitches!

D.C. Benny and Peter Grumbine did a swell job of selling themselves. And, as we opined in this very feature last year, selling oneself might be the most important thing one can do in these types of situations. (And, if they get even the slightest whiff that today's idea might possibly be your only idea, you are pitching toast!

Aristocrats produder/director performs bloodless, open-heart surgery on Lewis Black at the Delta Bar. Here we see Provenza deftly installing a shunt. With a smile!

So andrenalinated was Peter Grumbine that he used the word "shit" in his pitch. He also managed to coin a new term, "two-joke pony." (In response to a criticism that his sitcom might be, in Fox's Falvey's words, a "one-joke pony.") But our favorite moment in his pitch (and quite possibly in the entire afternoon) was when he said, with complete sincerity, "When one senior citizen gets the clap, it's not that funny... but when all the senior citizens get the clap-- it's hilarious!" In context, that actually made sense!)

The only show that had actual standup in it was the one envisioned by Joe Matarese and his third cousin, psychologist and comedian Matt Bellace. Their trailer for "What's So Funny" (described by the two as "Premium Blend meets Dr. Phil") featured comics Jim Norton and Artie Lange. The premise is that the comics do standup and then get psychoanalyzed on the spot by Bellace. Their underlying premise being that all comics are fucked in the head and that America would like to look over Bellace's shoulder while he peers inside their skulls. Matarese serves as the liason between the world of psychoanalysis and standup. Of course, we here at SHECKYmagazine are constantly trying to stamp out the notion that standup comics are, as a rule, narcissistic and self-indulgent. Bellace told us (on a later shuttle ride) that he was aware of our crusade. We good-naturedly busted his chops for holding that opinion, even though it was the lynchpin of their entire project.) In spite of our opposition to the nasty stereotypes it might help to perpetuate, we still thought that most of the criticism of it were unfounded. (We think TV execs are narcissistic and self-indulgent! So there!) And that video was well-produced. One more thing: To the exec who doubted that people would find the show entertaining? Uhh... in their quest to create the pitch video, Matarese and Bellace actually did the show at least twice, in front of live audiences and what they showed Thursday afternoon was videotaped evidence that their show was indeed entertaining. All those people howling with laughter and applauding on the tape was our first clue!

Joe Matarese and Matt Bellace at National Monument for the screening of Jeffery Ross' Patriot Act

One annoying tendency: Like we said, complaining about "only having five minutes," in which to pitch. Hello? We comics only have 4:30 to essentially pitch ourselves and our standup acts when we appear on nationally televised late-night talk shows. It is possible to get a lot done in that short window... and it is best to consider every possibility and, well, get 'er done. Another annoying tendency: Being defensive. We hasten to distinguish between defending one's idea and being defensive. Taking offense at the sometimes less than diplomatic critique of a TV exec is pointless, counter-productive and exactly what they want. (It is best to consider what is said with bemusement. Try to remain calm and try to recall that they use terms like "factual entertainment" with a straight face.)

It was fascinating to see that there were eight pitches and eight different approaches to pitching! Some people took the barebones approach, some had taped packages, one combined a verbal presentation supplemented with a videotape of... opening credits!

Brian McKim (left) and self-portrait with Jeff Ross. (With cropping input from Ross himself)

Jeffery Ross has made a tremendous film called "Patriot Act." Drew Carey, Kathy Kinney, Blake Clark, Kyle Dunnigan, Andres Fernandez, Rocky Laporte and Larry Gelbart are featured in this travelogue/documentary about a USO comedy tour of the dangerous Sunni triangle just months after the fall of Baghdad.

The film, written and directed by Ross, invokes the memory of the recently departed Bob Hope in its early minutes and hearkens back to him in song throughout. In the voiceover, he admits to being blissfully ignorant about matters military. He quite honestly states that, if he had any preconceived notions about the men and women who fight wars for America, they were notions that were fuzzy, ill-defined or based in outright falsehoods. The film isn't just a home movie of a bunch of comics entertaining weary soldiers in a battle zone, it's a startling and eloquent account of one man's acquisition of an entire set of ideas-- about war, about the people who fight it, about the people touched by it. In the Q & A afterward, he states his transformation thusly: "Going through this experience didn't change my politics about the war... it gave me politics about the war." Ross is a fine documentary filmmaker. He tells the story that the MSM has, by and large and for various reasons, neglected to tell.

And Ross isn't the only one undergoing a transformation of sorts. We were touched by Blake Clark, a veteran of two tours of Viet Nam, and his metamorphosis. In the early going, he's Blake Clark-- no different from the Blake Clark that one might encounter during a week at the Punchline in Atlanta. By movie's end, after an intense four days of hopping through the desert and performing on the back of flatbed trucks and chopper hangars in some of the most desolate outposts in Iraq, it's obvious that he's opened up a couple of old wounds, but that he's healed a couple as well.

Drew Carey's efforts on behalf of the USO and the servicemen and women are staggering. All the moreso when you consider the low profile he's fought hard to maintain with regard to these dangerous and grueling tours. Bob Hope, it can be said with certainty, did more than any human being to comfort and entertain American troops. But Hope's modus operandi involved newsreel cameras and, later, television specials. Perhaps this isn't so much because of who Hope was, but because of the public's attitude toward war and service. Times change, Hope passes on and people like Carey carry on with his mission but in a decidedly low-key way. We suspect that Carey might be a bit uncomfortable that a film such as this one might bring too much attention to his efforts! We, however, are glad that such a record of these acts exist. They might inspire others to do the same. (We're certainly inspired! We've done some stateside military show,, of coure, but we've told Carey's management that we're in if they need us, if they'd have us.)

Did you know that comedy actually happens in other locations when Just For Laughs is going on? It's true. We have, as evidence, a article by Guy McPherson on Toronto-based comedian Derek Edwards, who is playing Yuks in Vancouver this weekend.
Edwards, who is as naturally funny and likable off-stage as on-, has no desire to enter the computer age. "I just don't need another thing I gotta do all day. Somehow, with all the time I have off, I feel pressed for time. I'm often winded for no reason. So I don't need 15 e-mails I gotta reply to because somebody thinks I'm an asshole [since] I didn't get back to them."
Ohhh... so that's how that works!

Curious Lighting: Eddie Izzard (right) and his spiritual advisor Marc Ryan. Actually, Ryan's a comic... it's just that, in this picture, he looks to be... glowing... beatific, even. Photoshopped in, to be quite honest! (At the Delta, of course!)

Etan Vlessing, writing for Reuters, filed an error-filled article from the Festival, "Sitcom Downturn no laughing matter for comics." He misidentifies Kelly Taylor as "Kelly Thomas," misspells Angelo Tsarouchas (understandable, maybe... we're not even sure if we got it right!) and calls Frank Spadone "Frank Spadino!" Other than that, it's a boo-hoo piece about how nobody gets signed to sitcoms immediately upon dismount. There's lots of attention paid to one-man shows and this gem from Stuart Krasnow:
"If Hulk Hogan can carry a sitcom about his life, then comics should also consider possibilities for work in hybrid reality/comedy shows," Krasnow said after participating in the Just For Pitching session Thursday afternoon.
Huh? Wha? Krasnow actually made sense during Just For Pitching... perhaps he was misquoted. Judging from the oodles of misspellings, it's a distinct possibility.

"Evil Traci!" That's right, the Female Half of the Staff is in disguise this year. Lots of double takes as folks fail to recognize the formerly blond editrix of SHECKYmagazine. General consensus: Traci gets brass balls point for bravery. Blondes never go the other way (we mean hair color wise), especially 48 hours before a major Fest. The Male Half of the Staff is also getting points... for seemingly acquiring a new spouse! So far, Traci has been likened to Betty Page, Cleopatra, Natasha (from Rocky & Bullwinkle) and a "Ooh! I like the Elvira look!" Traci told CJAD listeners that it she was going for the Goth Soccer Mom look that's sweeping the suburbs. (Self indulgent? Actually, we're running the pic in response to a request!)

Take me to FRIDAY's Update!

Saturday, July 23, 2005


Just For Laughs 2005: FRIDAY

"How are you doing?" We were asked Wednesday night. After a moment of reflection, we replied, "Placid." That's right. This year, we're placid, the root of which is Latin placidus, from placEre to please. We are, in the dictionary's first sense of the word, "serenely free of interruption or disturbance."

Kerri Louise Cotter gamely attempts to dine while Tom Cotter wrangles the twin Cotter tots. All while being filmed by a camera crew in the restaurant at the Delta.

"Yeah...a monster...with no lines and a sweater vest."

What do the following people/entities have in common?
Jeff Foxworthy, Larry the Cable Guy, Killer Beaz, Andy Kindler, Larry David, Still Standing, Mark Addy, Jamie Gertz, Jay Leno, Ed Hall, Jamie Masada, George W. Bush, The Laugh Factory, George Lopez, Pauly Shore, Don Rickles, Kathy Griffin, John Leguizamo, Law & Order S.V.U., Carlos Mencia, The Mind of Mencia w/Carlos Mencia, American Idol, The William Morris Agency, ringtones, Zeppo Marx, Tom Cruise, Fox Television, Committed, Mork & Mindy (the telemovie), Robin Williams, Robert Blake, Jimmy Fallon, Entourage, Jeremy Piven, Rock Star INXS, According to Jim, Jim Belushi, Fat Actress, Jeff Zucker, Tina Fey, Adam Sandler, the Wayans Brothers, Rosie O'Donnell
Time's up. They were all used or abused by Andy Kindler in his tenth State of the Industry address.

Emery Emery (who edited The Aristocrats) and Tommy James (former Big Mover) at the S.O.T.I.A.

A packed Delta ballroom buzzed with anticipation as comic Eddie Pepitone took the podium and, in character as the head of "ASSHACK" (an acronym for an association of all the show business people harmed in one way or another by Andy Kindler), he delivered a fiery (and side-splitting) "speech" denouncing Kindler and his smug show business pronouncements. (Of course, the speech was written by Kindler himself!) It was an appropriate kickoff for this, the Tin Anniversary of the S.O.T.I.A. (That's not a typo. You're supposed to give gifts made of tin.)

This was a different SOTIA, not just because of the care with which the intro was crafted, but because on the other end, it was capped off with a film clip. (It is worth noting that there were no adjectives preceding the words "film clip." It is a tribute to Kindler that we are running out of ways to say "wildly funny.") It was eight minutes long and it amply demonstrated Kindler's understanding of the business of television and his deep sorrow that the medium has failed miserably to live up not only to his standards but to even the barest minimum of standards. It was a demo reel for Kindler that might finally answer the question, "What can we do with Andy Kindler?" (The short answer should be, "Anything he wants!") In a perfect world, it would bring to a screeching halt every reality show currently in production. In this imperfect world, it evokes tears of laughter.

Priceless moments: Kindler actually watching paint dry. (Ya hadda be there.) A beautiful, (and lengthy! And gloriously tedious!) documentation of Kindler tying first one shoe... and then the other.

Joe Starr's wife Francine, Joe Starr and Joe Starr's friend Ed Byrne. (It's all about Joe Starr... go ahead, ask him, he'll tell ya.)

In a "breakdown" conversation about the film clip afterward, with Kindler and Eddie Brill (after the Hollywood Reporter party was chased indoors by rain), Kindler lamented a "laugh line that didn't get a laugh," to which, Brill replied, "Andy, if it didn't get a laugh... it's not a laugh line." (Delivered, of course, with Brill's grin. It's in the running for line of the Fest.)

We understand the HR party gained strength and vigor after it was moved. We, however, were stricken by an intense desire to get horizontal. (Editors note: It has come to our attention that the phrase "get horizontal" may be interpreted as a euphemism for sexual intercourse. Ew. How creepy! Sorry. All we did was take a nap!) We trekked back, in the rain, to our accomodations and rested up. Friday night, we would be heading to the Imperial Theater to see "The Aristocrats," the Paul Provenza-directed and Penn Jillette-produced documentary about the filthiest joke ever.

Melane Hotz, Jeremy Hotz, Marcus Hotz (Mother, Son, Father) at the Studio du Musee Juste Pour Rire for the Montreal at Midnight soiree. Note: Several of the above e's require at small grave above them, as does the e in grave. The one above Melane, the second one in Musee and possibly the second one in soiree. HTML's a bitch.

As the lights went down at the packed Imperial, and the film began, we felt mildly bad about ourselves for having been in the comedy business for 20+ years and having never heard the joke that formed the nucleus of the film we were about to see. In the Q & A afterward, we were greatly relieved to hear Jake Johannsen and Doug Stanhope admit that they, too, were ignorant of the gag. They sat on high studio chairs on the giant Imperial stage, post-screening, along with Jillette, Provenza, Judy Gold, Jeffery Ross and Greg Rogell, and fielded questions from the crowd.

The Ft. Worth Star-Telegram called it "a pointed and raucous celebration of free spech in America." They miss the point entirely. The point is made at least twice in the movie that the joke is rarely told in public. Speech isn't so much the star here as language. A not so subtle distinction. Language and style and the mechanics of a simple joke. And how comics amuse themselves. How indeed!

We haven't enjoyed watching a movie that is so totally about enjoying being a standup comic since we saw a screening of "Let Me In I Hear Laughter, " the documentary about the history of the Friars Club. Like "Let Me In..." Aristocrats features a who's who of standup comics who are beside themselves with joy over the fact that they are comics. Discussing and analyzing, in the minutest detail, a facet of their craft makes them... ecstatic. Why is that? Because, really, no one ever really asks. On the rare occsions when someone does ask, it's usually someone who expects (and consequently gets) a routine answer. Not so with this flick. All who participated (and there were many!) had that twinkle in their eye. In fact, the closing credits featured nothing but each interviewee cackling wildly!

The movie should put to rest the insidious myth that comics sit around and top each other because they're insecure, competitive and bitter. They do it because, quite often, they can. And it's a blast! The Aristocrats is not unlike the Home Run Contest at the annual MLB All-Star Game. We all know what a home run looks like. And all the players know what it feels like to hit one. But the hitters take great joy and pride in participating. And the fans can't get enough of it.

Is it filthy? Well... sure! But that's not the point, either.

Here's a conversation that has taken place many times, between two comics:
Hey, I saw Otto & George for the first time last week.

What did you think?

They were FILTHY! It was hilarious! It was really FILHTY!
Here's a conversation you'll never hear:
Hey, I saw Otto & George for the first time last week.

What did you think?

Well, I personally was not offended, but it was filthy!
The idea of being offended doesn't even enter into it. We are over the offensive/not offensive thing. We are unshockable. But we love the attempt.

Trying to figure out what might make a comic laugh is somewhat analogous to figuring out what arouses a porn star on his or her day off. To an average person, that might be very shocking. To the porn star? Not so much.

Stay tuned. We gotta break up today's update into two hunks. We are off to the Artist vs. Industry Basketball game.

Simon Rakoff and Mike McDonald (the symbol for which is Fe, if we remember our Periodic Table of Comedy Elements correctly)

Take me to SATURDAY's Update!

Monday, July 25, 2005


Just For Laughs 2005: SATURDAY

It's Sunday evening, 9:38 PM, we're heading south on I-87. We're still two hours from home. How did that happen? We left at 1 PM! Well, there was that two-hour delay crossing the border... And a stop at the duty free for a couple of bottles of Sapphire Bombay Gin and a twelvepack of Belle Gueule.

John Caponera (Wise Guys) conversing with Andy Kindler at the Delta Saturday evening

The stackup at the border crossing was from two to four. The Male Half of the Staff figured on walking the half-mile or so from the all too stationary car to the duty free to get the ball rolling on the liquor and tax rebate process (That's right kids: save the receipts from your hotel room and they give you back your GST!), but was met at the edge of the parking lot by a polite but firm border guard who said the little scheme was prohibited by arcane border regulations! Damn! At least he had a pleasant walk in the Canadian sun.
On the way back I saw Tony Camacho crawl by at about 2 kilometers per hour (in his car, we hasten to add). Tony waved. A little farther up the road I chatted briefly with Dave Rath, also stuck in traffic, and gave him a brief update on the congestion ahead. Two hours later I spotted Camacho again, this time in the parking lot of a Thruway rest area. I spoke to Tony more on I-87 than I did during the previous four days of the Fest!
The bad thing about being stuck in a car this long, after being exhausted from four days of Festication, aside from the risk of fiery crashes of course is that we get... punchy! In addition to composting the conversations and incidents of the past 96 hours, we intermittently amuse ourselves by coming up with ridiculous ideas. And we came up with an innovative new day program for next year's JFL: Just For Stripping! It keeps all the successful exec types from leaving the Delta in pursuit of all their lapdance needs and (Double Bonus!) HBO could use it as a casting session for three-quarters of their programming! (Is it just us, or does HBO feature an inordinate number of shows featuring strippers and ho's?!?) Of course, the winning stripper will receive the coveted Hairy Palm d'Whore!

When last we uploaded, we were headed to the Artist vs. Industry Basketball game. This year's scrimmage was well-attended but past shirt provider (and
sponsor) Roots had been replaced by American Apparel, who provided the industry with retro-style (70's vintage) kelly green shirts with white trim. Hmmm... Somewhat Village People-ish, a little nerdish. While we appreciate a free T, this one is destined to become a shoe polish rag in record time! The game? Oh! The game!

Well, once again, some not-so-wiseguy signed the signup sheet in the Delta Lobby as "Mike Hunt." Ah, yes-- That gag never gets old.

This year, however, more folks signed up on the Industry side! And-- get this-- unlike in years past, many of them were well under the age of dead! They had springy flesh and clear eyes! (Much like the fish at your finer seafood outlets!) And they could hoop! And they were aggressive! Which was one reason that the Male Half of the Staff played only for a brief time. "Hey... I think we're in danger of winning... which is why I'm
limiting my minutes!" is how he put it to the alpha male on the team who doubled as coach and spiritual leader.
The ratio of aggressive play to health insurance was far too high! People from both sides were hitting the hardwood-- and rolling! I mosied on down to the opposing teams shootaround and made my traditional pre-game announcement: All right, people: I've got no health insurance, so no elbows! And then, speaking directly to Alonzo Bodden: It's only a rebound! To which Bodden responded, under his breath, "Yeah... but we need those rebounds." Hmmm... ominous. Not a good sign.

I got my stat (an assist on a basket by's Guy McPherson) and
took a permanent seat on the sidelines. That stat, btw, was a perfect pass-- off my knee. Hey, a stat's a stat.
Standouts? That John Caponera can hoop! Cleveland native (and L.A. resident) David Arnold lit up the Industry for several points in the second half of the game. (He was shut down for several minutes early on by the Male Half of the Staff's superb defense. "Actually, I got lucky... and I used psychological warfare-- I dubbed him "Hot Air Jordan" so distracting him that he was taken off his game.")

The aforementioned McPherson racked up impressive numbers for the Industry in their losing effort. We didn't catch the final score, but we understand the Artists triumphed by a measly three points. Last year's gap was four points, so that means that Industry should eventually triumph in the year 2009.

Enss Mitchell (Comedy Union, L.A.), David Arnold, Ben Bailey at the Delta

After the ballgame, there was a super-secret party, hosted somewhere by Comedy Network. And it seems that the only people who knew about it were Canadian! Hey, what gives? We desperately tried to start an international incident, but to no avail. We briefly considered crashing it, but we hit the Delta bar and lost all incentive, stopping to quaff a Rickard's Red or two with the likes of Joe Starr (and wife Francine), George Sarris (N.Y.U.C.F impresario) and Ed Byrne. Stopping by briefly were Gary Gulman, Jeremy Hotz and Marc Ryan. Who needs a super secret party?

There was a not-so-secret party the night before at the cavernous upstairs
space at the JFL HQ on St. Laurent. Dubbed "Montreal @ Midnight,"
there was a live band and plenty of Labatt's in the house... and on the house. Fortunately, for those of us who enjoy the company of others-- and the art of conversation-- there was a somewhat quieter wing off to the side, where shouting wasn't necessary. All the while, a small army of attractive, young Montrealers stopped by on regular intervals offering us bruschetta, egg rolls and General Tso's chicken! All of it well prepared and beautifully presented! That's a party!

Jeffery Ross stopped by, thanking us for saying such nice things about his
movie. We thanked him for making it. 24 hours later Ross would learn that his film was the recipient of the Comedia Award, a sort of a Palme d'Or handed to that film ajudged to stand out among the rest. The award, we were
told this morning was to be officially presented earlier this evening at a ceremony at 7:30. We suspect (and certainly hope) that this honor will pave the way for Ross to obtain assistance in distributing his movie and reaching a wider audience. Note: This award is not to be confused with the aforementioned Hairy Palm d'Or.

Sharilyn Johnson (Winnipeg journo) and Rick Bronson

This year, the Masters featured Kitty Flanagan, Jeff Caldwell, Robert Hawkins, Ben Bailey, David Arnold, Michael Loftus, Keith Robinson and Jake Johannsen doing two shows Friday night at Kola Note. is keepin' it reel, y'all.

That's not a typo. It's what we privately dubbed our strategy here at this year's fest. We decided to eschew live comedy performances (not that there's anything wrong with that!) in favor of sampling some of the healthy crop of fine standup comedy related (or standup comic-produced) movies and short films.

For the past three or four years, when we've applied for our JFL press creds, we've been asked to fill out a request form that names our top three choices for events that we'd like to get tickets to. Trouble is the application process (and the ticket request process) takes place weeks before the festival, in May! By the time the actual fest rolls around, and we find ourselves actually at the Delta perusing all the handouts and press materials, placards, cards and posters, we've totally forgotten what we've "put in for" and, to be quite honest, in some cases, we've lost all incentive (for reasons many and varied) to attend some event or another which, weeks earlier, seemed like a good idea! Make no mistake, the fine folks at JFL have been more than accomodating; and we've gotten a surprising number of the tix we've requested-- and therein lies part of the problem! This year, for instance, we used not one of the tickets that JFL graciously supplied to us. And we felt bad about that. In years past, the system was looser-- Folks would amble by the press office, inquire as to the possibility of getting into this event or that, and fest officials would make a decision based on some sort of yield management voodoo. Apparently, that system was inferior and the new one was instituted. Compounding the problem is the fact that the new system (to a greater extent than the old one) depends in part on a phone call... and we are incommunicado the entire time we're in Montreal! (The Royal Vic doesn't have phones and our cell phone doesn't work in Canada!)

So, next year, we've decided not to put in for any tickets in advance and take our chances. We'll use any connections we might have, scramble to get on guest lists, use our charm, our juice (such as it may be) and craft our attendance and coverage on the fly. BTW: We'd like to thank Emery Emery, Robert Hawkes and the fine folks at ThinkFilm for getting us tickets to The Aristocrats!

And we'd like to express our regret at never getting on over to the Eat My Twisted Shorts program on Friday afternoon. We had every intention of seeing Texan Tom Hester's "Fistful of Pills," which was on the bill with a host of other shorts. The pre- and post-screening talk on the movie was positive. (Perhaps we'll bug Hester to send us a DVD!)

Keith Robinson (left) and SHECKYmagazine editor Brian McKim started out in the Philly comedy scene

We caught "The Comedians of Comedy" movie Saturday night at the
Monument Nationale. It was a filmed account of a mini-tour by a group of alternative comics of "unconventional venues." The tour (and, we assume, the film) was arranged in part by comic Patton Oswalt and featured Brian Posehn, Maria Bamford and Zach Galafiniakis. Spooky or what: The movie starts out with Oswalt describing an incident that occured at the Comedy Factory Outlet in Baltimore which was owned at the time of the incident by Clay Heery, who was, at one time, the Female Half of the Staff's brother-in-law! (Cue Paul Harvey: "Now you know... the rest of the story!")

The movie was, to use a favorite alternative comic phrase, "soul crushing." It is ironic that a movie about comics could be so downbeat. Nearly everything that seemed to motivate Oswalt was negative-- Comedy clubs suck; comedy club audiences suck; his target audience (18-24 year olds) don't make any money; everything sucks, sucks, sucks. Four funny comics, to be sure. But the frame, the underlying themes, the entire raison d'etre of this celluloid exercise was to combat the mediocrity that Oswalt sees in every nook and cranny of the planet... except perhaps when he looks in the mirror. How utterly un-SHECKYlike. To quote our new favorite TV executive and spiritual guru, the Eeyore-esque Moses Znaimer: "Such talented people; such ho-hum ideas." On the positive side, we applaud anyone who, like Oswalt, assesses his current situation, deems it unacceptable and then takes giant, innovative steps to change it and takes trusted and talented colleagues along for the ride. Very SHECKYlike.

Buzz? You want to know about buzz? Although we here feel that the concept of buzz is against everything we stand for, here you go: Scottish comic Danny Bhoy. Everybody was talking about Danny Bhoy. And Three Blonde Moms, starring Mary Ellen Hooper, Joan Fagan and Helen Keaney. Sounds like a sitcom waiting to happen.

Gotta pack it in. Exit 29 is coming up. The site uses a blog format, so, if we have anything more to add as we digest the experiences of the past 96 hours and as we plow through the pile of stuff we picked up or if we get worked up over something, we'll post it. So check back. But, then, we don't have to tell you to do that, do we? Thanks.

That was fun... let's do it again! Take me back to THE FIRST posting!

Wednesday, July 27, 2005


J.F.L. 2005: Stuff we forgot...stuff we remembered!

In the hectic four days of J.F.L. coverage, we try to give readers an idea of what it's like to be in the middle of the world's largest comedy festival (or, perhaps slightly off to one side of the eye), but try as we might, we still forget to include bits and pieces, observations, etc. Each day, we would rise at about 10 AM or so, after an average of 5-1/2 hours of sleep, and bang out our daily update (which would take, on average, about two hours). Things fall through the cracks. Herewith are those things:

Here's a link to a page of lovely photos taken (not by us, but by ENS Productions for CJAD) in the vicinity of the CJAD remote broadcast table in the Delta mezzanine. (You'll recall that we were priveleged to be invited to hop on CJAD's air for a segment, just before heading over to see the "Hell Gig America" flick on Wednesday night.

* * * * * * *

Investigate this profile of Lewis Black from on the occasion of Black's hosting of the Stupidity Awards at this year's J.F.L. (Written by Nelson Wyatt for Canadian Press.)

* * * * * * *

We were surprised as anyone when National Lampoon CEO Kent Emmons asked us when/if we were eventually going to get married! To clarify: The Male Half of the Staff has been happily married to the Female Half of the Staff (and vice-versa) for 16 years... 16 years, 237 days, to be exact.

* * * * * * *

Where was Dom Irrera?

* * * * * * *

Apparently, all the J.F.L. goodie bags (handed out to all the Artistes) contained a tasteful T-shirt (emblazoned with the J.F.L. logo) and, among other things a DVD from one of the artists from the Blue Collar Comedy Tour. (It was random. Depending on the luck of the draw, lucky bag recipients got either a DVD or CD from Foxworthy, White, Engvall or The Cable Guy.) Was it wise to have them placed in the goodie bags? Not sure. Kindler cracked wise about it. A couple other comics made jokes. What's with that? We tried to analyze why anyone would be irate or annoyed (one comic even claimed to be "insulted!") by it. Maybe it's this: If your client isn't going to be present, physically present, maybe it's a bad idea to be thrusting your client's product into everybody's paw. Is it jealousy? Is this enmity exclusively reserved for the Blue Collar boys? Hmmm... no. We think comics don't really want a CD or a DVD of a fellow comic unless it's from:
1. A deceased comic
2. A legendary comic (Carlin, maybe)
3. A comic or act that's actually going to be featured at that year's fest (and that's a maybe)
Are we off base here? (Or are we just seizing on yet another opportunity to pile on Parallel Entertainment? Hey, at least we admit to the possibility.) Suggestion: Instead of a DVD, maybe a free drink coupon, "courtesy of the boys at Blue Collar TV! Get 'er drunk!"

* * * * * * *

We paid scant attention to local media coverage of the Festival in our Fest updates. We didn't have access to a television, so that was out. We did purchase the Gazette faithfully, though. We noted that there was a healthy amount of coverage, fair coverage, varied coverage, but nothing we felt the need to grouse about. Except for Bill Browstein (who, we hasten to add, spilled some nice ink on us when we appeared at the Comedy Nest last January!), who once again can't resist the tempatation to resort to the old chestnut about how all comics are mentally damaged in one way or another. That drives us insane. (That there would be your irony.)

Brownstein made an interesting point when he said that the best venue to see comedy at the Festival may well be the Comedy Works. ("Twenty bucks buys you 12 stand-up headliners in just two hours" reads the sub-head of his Thursday column.) But, he just can't help himself:
This show is also competitive, a kind of comedy Olympics as the wits, in their inimitable passive-aggressive manner, seek to out-one-line each another and with the crowd's approval. Comedians, you see, tend to be among the more insecure critters...

Jim Belushi, who hosted the Saturday night galas, is quoted in a profile in Saturday's Gazette, by Mark Lepage:
Being a standup is a terrifically horrifying fear of mine. They go out there on their own. They rely on the audience to be their partner. They live on that stress level.
And then there was the article, in the Business section of all places, which purported to give readers the lowdown on how to craft a comedy career. Stephanie Whittaker sought the advice of Jeff Rothpan, J.F.L. founder Andy Nulman, CBC radio personality (and part time standup) Sonali Karnick and comedy writer George Reinblatt. Only Rothpan's philosophizing didn't induce wincing. Unlike this:
"Don't take it personally if someone tells you you're not funny," Reinblatt says. "Instead, get funnier."
Hmmm... Reinblatt seems to sending out a mixed message-- Don't take it personally. Oh, sure, believe what they say, but, uh... don't take it personally! Sure, you can let someone induce gut-wrenching self-doubt to the point where you'll change your creative process and quite possibly doom yourself as a peformer, but... don't take it personally! (Perhaps we overreact.)

For all this alleged insecurity, a standup comic can interact with another standup comic and become friends (or a reasonable approximation thereof) with startling speed. We maintain that, far from being sociopathic, comics have highly developed social skills, and an overall desire (but certainly not an uhealthy one) to avoid conflict. (As was pointed out in one of a thousand conversations over four days, "'The Festival Dick' is rare." Or, to put it another way, comedy people who are truly dysfunctional are in the minority... way in the minority. And they are easily identified, as they stand out.)

* * * * * * *

This year, there was no Sunday night gala. There were, however, two galas each night on Friday and Saturday. And this year, there was an all-British gala. Just one of the changes in this year's fest.

We noted also that they changed the location of the table where shuttle rides were coordinated, virtually hiding it in the rear of the mezzanine. And there was little of the chaos that's surrounded that table in years past. Perhaps a logistical goof made by the Delta (or somebody!) that resulted in a good number of comedy industry types and maybe an artist or three being billeted at a hotel other than the Delta made for fewer folks seeking shuttles! Some folks who had Delta reservations were put up at The Intercontinental and other "sister" hotels. We suspect that many Delta customers were bumped by members of the many international swimming and diving teams that converged on Montreal to participate in the XI FINA World Championships, a giant aquatic orgy that's still going on! It added to the surreal experience that is the J.F.L.-- flying wedges of swimming and diving types skittering past clumps of standup comedy industry figures swilling Labatts in the hotel lobby and mezzanine. Elevators alternately disgorging blond, broad-shouldered female butterfly specialists or... Penn Jillette! Delightfully incongruous!

Sometimes, chaos, though, is good! Oftentimes, a conversation (albeit a short one) can be wedged in while waiting for a free shuttle ride. Schmoozing can take place amid chaos.

And, we hasten to insert: Not all exchanges at these affairs is schmoozing. Genuine human interaction takes place often.

* * * * * * *

The Male Half of the Staff had a brush with a comedy icon Saturday evening:
Although I didn't know it at the time, the gentleman three urinals down was a giant in the annals of Canadian (and U.S.) sketch comedy. It was only after, when I was headed out of the rest room, when Kid in the Hall Scott Thompson addressed my fellow urinator, as "Bellini," when I realized it! Had he been wearing a bath towel...

In another bathroom-related incident, T.M.H. of the S. encountered former Big Mover Tommy James in that double-doored airlock they often have at the entrances to all you finer rest rooms. James "greeted" his former editor with a cryptic "Fuck you, twice!" (We hasten to note that it was delivered with no detectable malice. We also hasten to add that a hearty-- if somewhat confused-- cackle was the rejoinder.) Upon further consideration however, we were disturbed that James had skipped the first Fuck You and hopped right to the second! ("It's like going straight to the Triple Dog Dare when no dares have been issued!," says T.F.H. of the S.) Unsettling in retrospect! Would past Big Movers Rich Williams or Tom Ryan say, "Fuck you twice?" We think not!

* * * * * * *

It's official: Eddie Brill can lay claim to The Line of the Festival. You'll recall, in an earlier post, while we were chatting about the S.O.T.I.A., Mr. Kindler lamented a "laugh line that didn't get a laugh" from his video earlier in the day. Brill's quick retort (a good-natured one, of course!) was "Andy, if it didn't get a laugh... it's not a laugh line."

* * * * * * *

Our biggest regret: That we never did snap a picture of Dwight Slade and Slade Ham together (with Slade on the left and Ham on the right), only because the caption could have been, "Left to right: Dwight Slade Ham"

* * * * * * *

There was a show devoted to remembering Lucien Hold Thursday night ("A Fond Farewell, A Tribute to Lucien Hold"). The Comic Strip (NY) proprietor passed away recently and Barry Weintraub, Johnny Lampert, Lenny Marcus, Vanessa Hollingshead and Elon Gold shared memories in a show at the Theatre St. Catherine.

There was no such tribute to Mitch Hedberg, but there was a page on the inside cover of the Artists Directory (which is not given to the media!!) that featured pics of Hedberg and the message, "In memory of our friend Mitch Hedberg." Perhaps there was not enough lead time for such a tribute. Maybe in '06


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