Just For Laughs 2018 highlights – The 36th edition of the Just For Laughs comedy festival ended on July 29 with a new outlook thanks to a new ownership group (including comic Howie Mandel), a large variety of shows for all kinds of comedy lovers and a record number of sold out shows (including both Trevor Noah galas, Hannah Gadsby’s farewell performance of her solo show “Nanette”, this year’s edition of Homegrown Comics, as well as shows fronted by Tom Papa, Gary Gulman, and Kevin Hart).
Personally speaking, I was a whirling dervish covering the festival for the Montreal Times, seeing a total of 22 shows (which is about the norm for me), as well as rubbing shoulders with comics and industry people after hours, plus witnessing some other interesting happenings and highlights throughout the 17 days I was there. And like I do around this time every August, I share some of my highlights in these pages as I wrap up Just For Laughs 2018.
My “discoveries” of the festival: Matteo Lane (who gave a hilarious take of how he came out as a gay man to his Italian family at the Ethnic Show), Neal Brennan (one of the best crafted stand-up shows I have ever seen), Ivan Decker (watch out for his Netflix comedy special in 2019) and Tim Dillon (whose ice cream brands routine killed at Midnight Surprise).
Favourite Howie Mandel moment: Besides being a veteran stand-up comic, game show host – and now co-owner of the festival – Howie Mandel also has the uncanny ability for storytelling, which he exhibited quite strongly during an appearance on Ron Bennington’s “Unmasked” podcast for Sirius XM; his story about how he at first turned down the offer to host “Deal Or No Deal” (but reconsidered thanks to some “urging” from his wife) was a classic.
Why I like going to the Just For Laughs Awards Show: It’s not just for the comics who get honoured for their respective achievements in the comedy world (which are announced just before the festival begins), but which comics make surprise appearances to present each award. This year, Marc Maron, Deon Cole, Howie Mandel, Maria Bamford and Kevin Hart did the presenting honours. Tiffany Haddish – who won the Comedy Person of the Year – gave her presenter Kevin Hart a gift of a small pair of shoes filled with cash as a means of a partial payback for the moral and financial support he gave her during her struggling years as a young comic.
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The one OFF-JFL show you MUST see every year: The Midnight Surprise show at the Theatre St. Catherine is one of the best values for your comedy dollar. This show is always sold out and its element of mystery (the audience doesn’t know who are on that night’s line-up until the moment they are announced by the host) is a key reason why you can’t get a ticket for this show throughout its run. And at times, many major headliners come to perform at the Midnight Surprise show to test out their material for their own shows the following night. One later edition saw surprise appearances at the same night by Kevin Hart, Dave Chappelle, John Mayer and Tiffany Haddish.
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My favorite line from the festival: “People ask me if it’s hard leaving my family when I travel. The hardest part is trying not to whistle when I’m packing.” – Tom Papa.
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The comic who could – and should — host any Just For Laughs show that he damn well pleases: Godfrey. This festival veteran, with his smooth manner and terrific ability to adlib, proves that he can be an excellent show host as well as a featured performer, which he proved many times over with his hosting duties at the Midnight Surprise show, as well as performing a killer set at the second Jeff Dunham gala, and helming his own show called “Godfrey: Yea, I Said It…”
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Podcast, podcasts, everywhere: The number of comedy podcasts as part of Just For Laughs’ ComedyPro conference just keeps on growing year after year, with over 20 of them as part of this year’s line-up. I saw four of them: “About Last Night” with Brad Williams and Adam Ray, “YKWD” with Robert Kelly, “Unmasked” with Ron Bennington and “Getting Curious” with Jonathan Van Ness (from “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy”), which was a totally delightful surprise for me, as he managed to fill the Hyatt’s large Grand Salon Opera with hundreds of his many devoted fans, and was greeted with constant loud ovations.
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The ComedyPro show that should be a regular part of its line-up: “Throwback”. Hosted by Wanda Sykes, it featured three comics (this time, it was Jo Koy, Fortune Feimster and Matt Braunger), who took a look back at the beginnings of their respective comedy careers through video clips of some of their earlier appearances. The clips were hilarious to look at; the comics’ non-stop comments to those clips were uproariously funny and quite pointed in nature.
Other JFL shows that were highlights for me: The Netflix tapings with DeAnne Smith and Ivan Decker, Brad Williams’ solo show, the Ethnic Show, “Controlled Danger” with Dave Chappelle and John Mayer, Tom Papa’s “You’re Doing Great!” show, “Jimmy Carr: The Best of Ultimate Gold Greatest Hits Tour”, and “The Stand Up Show with Katherine Ryan”.
Special shout outs to Tru TV, Netflix, Funny or Die, and Comedy Central for satisfying the midnight munchies cravings for journalists, industry, artists and festival personnel alike with their respective after hours parties or kiosks that provided an endless supply of Montreal smoked meat sandwiches, poutine and bagels (with the fixings) that was quite welcome after a full day of reporting, schmoozing and/or performing.
Finally, a special thank you to Charlene Coy and her wonderful, intrepid press team (Emile, Lianna, Maude, Chloe, Stephanie and both Hollys) for all of their help and assistance in making my job of covering this year’s Just For Laughs festival such a rewarding one since the first announcement was made back in May. Also, kudos to the following people for making the festival so much fun to go to this year: Allan, Bill, George, Neil, Jeffrey, Rick and Guido.
Feature image: Tiffany Haddish and Kevin Hart at the Just For Laughs Awards Show
Stuart Nulman did 22 shows in 17 days