I have done pretty much everything you can think of in comedy.
I’ve toured the country with comedians, written stand-up specials, booked comedians for competition shows, written jokes for hosts, produced short films, hosted a podcast, and even gone in front of the camera.
The one thing I had never done was go to the prestigious Montreal Just For Laughs Comedy Festival.
I’ve always wanted to go, but because I work all over the spectrum in television and not every show I work on is a comedy, no show has ever paid for me to go. And it’s super expensive to pay out of pocket.
Through luck, timing, and a recommendation, I was hired by Just For Laughs to be a set vetter for the festival.
Comedians always talk about how big Montreal is for their career, and some comics would literally kill to get in there. The same is pretty true for producers, writers, managers, and agents.
I’ve worked as a set vetter before, but in a much smaller capacity. When I worked on “America’s Got Talent” I helped comedians with their sets for auditions and tapings. I only worked with a handful at a time. In advance of Montreal I got assigned roughly 65 comedians. There was about 200 comedians in attendance at Montreal who were taping sets. I ended up working with nearly all of them.
Comedians were assigned a network they would be taping for, a set length in minutes, and a venue they’d be taping at. Each of the six networks we were filming sets for had different guidelines of standards and practices. Prior to a comedian filming a set, the comedian had a warm up set the day prior where I watched them perform their intended set to give any last minute notes. In advance of that, I worked with the comedians via phone, text, and e-mail when they provided a transcript of their intended set.
The list of comedians I was assigned was like a Mount Rushmore of comedy living legends. Louie Anderson, Lewis Black, Bobby Slayton, Greg Proops, Tom Green, Andy Dick, Brian Posehn, Jo Koy, and many others who are just coming in to prominence like Tone Bell and Cameron Esposito.
It felt weird to get assignments like Louie Anderson, Bobby Slayton, and Lewis Black because I’m 30 years old and they have been doing comedy longer than I have been alive. Guys like that could have very easily been stand-offish, but they weren’t. They were receptive and willing to work to make their comedy even better than their already crafted brilliance.
There are always some people who are difficult to deal with, and interestingly enough it was never the legends. It was the people who THINK they are legends. Fortunately the problem children were few and far between.
I arrived in Montreal on Saturday July 23rd and came back to the United States on Sunday July 31st. Each day started with a 5pm meeting with the set vetting and programming team of JFL. My first show was at either 7:30pm or 8pm with a second show at either 9:45pm or 10:30pm. Id usually wrap up vetting sets around midnight and then head to the Roast Battle viewing party or God Damn Comedy Jam show before a 1am meeting that usually lasted until 2:30am.
Before 5pm and after 2:30am I was free to do whatever I wanted, but often that involved chasing down comedians I needed to speak with about their sets.
The 1am meeting was without a doubt the highlight of my work experience in Montreal. Six of us would gather to discuss the comics we saw that night and paced each shows gala tapings for where each comedian should perform in the lineup. Order of a lineup is something the average comedy fan might not be aware of its importance. Among other things, certain comedy styles go better when placed after other styles and vice versa.
The 1am meeting was so completely opposite of a typical meeting. Ignore the fact that it was taking place at 1am, but we also conducted the meeting over drinks, and inside a room where the only thing separating us from hundreds of the biggest names in comedy and entertainment are two doors.
Each night a comedian wandered into our conference room. Whether it was Jimmy Carr, Elon Gold, or Jessica Kirson it was a welcome distraction that added to the fun.
The thing I loved most about the festival was getting to see international comedians on a regular basis. I had never seen Jimmy Carr before, and he’s someone I have followed for a few years because he’s huge internationally.
Russell Kane is another British comedian who stole all the laughs from the festival. Getting to see someone like that whom I had never seen before was a real treat, especially when he told me that he made a point to crush it this time around after being disappointed with his showing at the festival four years prior.
And then there was comedian Dave Hughes from Australia, who I would never have been exposed to. His style of comedy really forced me to listen to his words because of his accent and how he pronounced words. I can half listen to comedians from the States and predict where the bit is going to go. With the international acts, it’s not as easy because styles from other countries are different.
I didn’t do a lot of sightseeing, but I did walk through Old Montreal, which has gorgeous nostalgic architecture. And as per usual when I’m in a new city I visited the casino. Beyond that, I stuck around the three-mile radius of the festival, because there was just so much going on in the immediate area.
I didn’t have many moments of discomfort in the 8 days I was there. Comedy is my third language. Unfortunately French isn’t my first or second. I really only had a few instances of feeling awkward when someone in the city didn’t speak English and only spoke French. For the most part, everyone in Montreal speaks both languages. My most profound emotion was without a doubt pride. It felt great to be experiencing Montreal with a number of friends who were doing big things during the festival.
Watching my buddy Jamar Neighbors perform each night as part of The Wave on Roast Battle for Comedy Central was pretty dope. Seeing Jesus Trejo attend the festival as part of the 2016 New Faces group was really special. And seeing Gina Brillon perform each night as part of the Ethnic Show and work with her to tape a set for the Howie Mandel Gala filming for the CW was remarkable. Gina and I started out together nearly a decade ago back in the SiTV days when I produced a show called “Latino 101.” To think we came from doing Latino shows to working together at Montreal was a pretty epic experience.
I could write 10,000 more words on my experience at Montreal, but I’ll save that for another time, because other career things happened in Montreal, which I will share in future blogs. There really was a magical feeling over those eight days. I am writing this over a week after I have returned from the festival and I barely feel like I have recovered, not only because I barely slept but because it’s hard to come back to reality after non stop excitement nearly every moment I was there. Now as for those other career things that happened while at Montreal…I know, cliff hanger…