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Two Just For Laughs veterans return for 40th anniversary - Jessica Kirson and Robert Kelley - Mtltimes.ca

Two Just For Laughs veterans return for 40th anniversary – Jessica Kirson and Robert Kelley

Just For Laughs

Comedian Jessica Kirson has performed at Just For Laughs on six previous occasions, not to mention at its festival branches in Toronto, Vancouver, Bermuda, and Austin (Texas). But being chosen to perform once again in Montreal for the festival’s 40th anniversary edition is a huge honour for her.

“This is my favourite place to perform; JFL is like a family to me,” she said in a recent phone interview. “Montreal has the best audiences around, and I have the best time whenever I perform there. This is a festival for everybody, whether you’re a comedian, an industry person or a spectator.”

Jessica Kirson
Jessica Kirson performing for the 40th edition of Just For Laughs

This year, Jessica is part of the line-up for the Just For The Culture series of shows (which was previously known to JFL mavens as The Ethnic Show), which runs from July 13 to 28 at two venues: Club Soda and the MTelus. Hosted by longtime festival favourite Alonzo Bodden, Just For The Culture will showcase cultural diversity in comedy with Jessica and fellow comedians Dave Merheje, Paul Rabliauskas, Sheng Wang and Yannis Pappas.

And like the festival, Jess believes that Just For The Culture is a show for everybody, and appreciates its new name and approach to diversity in comedy. “I’m Jewish, and in my act I talk about Jewish culture, not about being Jewish. No matter what your upbringing is, the comedians in this show will talk about things that a lot of people can relate to, and can relate to each other,” she said.

A native of New Jersey, Jessica was the perennial class clown in school and was encouraged by her grandmother to become a comedian, which she did about 23 years ago after she got her Masters of Social Work degree at NYU. Besides the numerous touring, club dates and comedy TV appearances and specials, Jessica has written, produced and appeared in a number of movies such as “School Dance” and the upcoming feature “The Comedian” starring Robert De Niro. She also teaches a comedy class, and was the executive producer for a documentary called “Hysterical”, which aired on FX and Hulu. And her more than 100 videos on her YouTube channel “The Jessy K Show”, which feature her stand-up comedy routines and crowd work, has garnered over 2.5 million views. As well, she was honoured by the MAC Awards as best female comic, and received the Nightlife Award as best stand-up comedian in New York City.

When you see Jess perform onstage, you can understand why she has received such honours and an increasingly growing fan base. Her persona is that of a boiling cauldron of rage and insanity that is about to explode; however, her hilarious asides are a way of letting her audiences in on what is going on in her conscience, and almost acts like a way of calming her down and being somewhat rational.

“This is a crazy time in the world today and I am a very anxious person. My brain can get very intense at times,” she said. “But I would rather laugh so I can find the humour in all these serious matters. Comedy saved my life. To me, it’s like a type of therapy.”

And when she’s done with the festival this summer, Jessica will be part of the line-up of the second annual Just For Laughs Escapes Festival in Cancun, Mexico this fall, as well as executive produce a second comedy documentary, this time dealing with some of the top female comedians around, which will be directed by actor Soleil Moon Frye (of “Punky Brewster” fame).

Robert Kelley
Comedian Robert Kelley

Robert Kelley gets personal with the mtltimes.ca

Robert Kelley fondly remembers the first time he ever performed at Just For Laughs … but his five-time association with the festival almost never came to be.

“I auditioned for years to appear at the festival, but I never got picked. And after I stated that I would audition for the last time, I finally got chosen … and they let me do the Nasty Show,” he said during a recent phone interview.

He never forgot that Nasty Show debut, where such fellow nasty comics like Nick Di Paolo and Louis C.K. were on the same line-up with him. “That was the dream team of nasty people, and it ended up being one of the best shows that I have ever done; it was pretty epic.”

This year, Robert returns to Just For Laughs’ 40th anniversary edition, where he will once again let loose as part of the Nasty Show line-up, along with host Big Jay Oakerson, Josh Adam Meyers, Liza Treyger, Sophie Buddle and Yamaneika Saunders. One of Just For Laughs’ most popular shows for over 30 years, the Nasty Show will present its no-holds-barred showcase of edgy comedy from July 20-28 at the MTelus.

“This year’s line-up is like the Murderer’s Row of comedy and I love it. And Big Jay Oakerson is the chief murderer. Everyone performing at this year’s Nasty Show is a killer. This is not a competition; this is a dream team,” he said. “The Nasty Show is the festival’s filthiest show, but it’s the most truest show, because with other comics watching you, you have to get your shit together. Also, you are not bound by rules as if you are doing a gala, where you have to fit your set and material for a TV broadcast. The Nasty Show is a show with no chains on it.”

Robert’s material is based on what is happening with his life and relationships, and after the past two years of the COVID pandemic, he will have plenty of things to say to the Nasty Show audiences. “I’m just doing things that represent who I am; you’re going to get nothing but 100% of what I am all about,” he said. “I am certainly going to talk about the pandemic and the wearing of masks, but not too much about it. In fact, I am going to focus on the good, the bad and the ugly of what happened during the last two years. For example, the more opportunities I had to do more role-playing with my wife, which got crazier and crazier for us. Then there were the times I could cancel anything I didn’t want to go to and everybody had to take it because of the pandemic. It was like an adult skipping school.”

Another thing that kept Robert busy and in touch with the comedy world during the pandemic was his podcast You Know What Dude?, in which he will do a live taping of it on July 28 at the Doubletree Hotel starting at 5 p.m. “I lost doing 50 live shows during the pandemic and it felt like a kick in the gut to me. So I converted a shed in the backyard of my home into a radio studio, where I did the podcast seven days a week. And I love my podcast,” he said. “For the live taping during the festival, I don’t know who is going to appear on it. I’ll just troll the lobby of the hotel, and see who would be perfect for the podcast and ask them to be a guest.”

Robert’s love of his podcast has taken another step. This time, as the co-owner of the Riotcast Podcasting Network. “The network has a diverse variety of comedy podcasts; it’s not just three guys sitting in front of a microphone and talking,” he said. The network boasts podcasts featuring such big comedy names as Lewis Black, Rich Vos, Bonnie McFarlane and Adam Ferrera, as well as a live show from the New York comedy club the Comedy Cellar.

“We want the network to help out comics everywhere; we even have a hand in getting comics to record their own albums,” he said. “All in all, I love doing podcasts. You get to perform in front of a live audience like you would in a club. But in this case, the audience knows right away if you’re going to suck in the room!”

For more information – or to purchase tickets – to Just For The Culture, The Nasty Show or any other Just For Laughs show, go to www.hahaha.com.

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